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Millions march to honor 'Black Nazarene'

Philippines | Religion & Culture

MANILA, Jan. 9 – Despite warnings by authorities of possible terror attacks, millions of barefooted Catholic devotees filled the streets of Manila during a massive procession on the occasion of the 405th-year celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene Monday.

Eight hours after the procession started shortly before 8 a.m. Monday, the procession was still just halfway through.  The mammoth crowd slowed progress to a crawl, moving inch-by-inch to the Minor Basilica in downtown Quiapo, which is only four kilometers away.

Minor Basilica of QuiapoThe penitents pushed and shoved their way just to touch the Black Nazarene image said to have miraculous healing power. Those who cannot reach threw their handkerchiefs or towels to marshals who wiped them on the image and threw them back.

The feast of the Black Nazarene is the Philippines’ largest religious celebration in terms of the number of participants reaching millions. Last year, police estimated the attendance at seven million.

President Benigno S. Aquino III himself issued the warning of a possible terror attack to mar the celebration. But the millions of faithful ignored the warnings with many of the devotees saying fear is not in their vocabulary. Attending the Black Nazarene procession is their way of thanking God for healing their illnesses and other favors the Lord had granted them through the years.  Many have testified that they have been healed after praying to God by attending novenas of the Black Nazarene.

The Minor Basilica of Quiapo said that the statue of the Nazarene arrived in Manila from Mexico in 1607. During the voyage, the ship caught fire but miraculously, the statue was not burned but its color turned black. From that time on, the image was named the Black Nazarene.

During the great fires that hit the Church of Quiapo in 1791 and 1929, and the destructive earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, the Black Nazarene statue again survived unscathed.

Even during the bombing of Manila towards the end of World War II, the Black Nazarene was not damaged, prompting the faithful and church authorities to believe the statue is miraculous.

Director General Nicanor Bartolome, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has placed the entire 15,000-strong police force in Metro Manila under full alert for today’s religious festivity, and banned the use of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices and drinking of alcohol.

Bartolome said that as of 4 pm today, no major incident has happened, but many of the penitents collapsed due to fatigue.  Stampedes also occurred during the long-dragging procession, resulting in injuries to some penitents.

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