Catholic devotees swept through the Philippine capital of Manila yesterday in a spectacular outpouring of passion for a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ that many believe holds miraculous powers.
In the nation’s biggest annual religious gathering, barefoot men and women crammed into Manila’s streets hoping to touch the life-sized, black icon as it was paraded through the city’s historic area for a day-long procession.
For what she said was the 40th year in a row, grandmother Carmelita Maralit, 64, waited for the “Black Nazarene” to pass her by.
“I have high-blood pressure and I believe it [honoring the statue] helps ease my pains,” Maralit told reporters.
Police said half a million people joined the parade as it began at a seaside Manila park, but estimated the crowd would grow to 8 million, as in previous years, before the icon is returned to its home at nearby Quiapo church.
The frenzied rush of people trying to touch the icon causes the carriage on which the statue rests to look like it is being tossed in a sea of human waves. Most of the devotees wear no shoes as a sign of penance.
Larry Torralba, 34, carried four white handkerchiefs as he and 69 neighbors waited for the parade, intending to jump above the throng onto the icon’s carriage and touch it with a handkerchief.
“I’m not asking for miracles, only that [God] keep me away from trouble and help me find work,” the Manila carpenter said.
Wage laborers, the unemployed, slum dwellers and middle-class professionals jostled to touch the statue of the Black Nazarene or wipe it with towels or handkerchiefs in hopes that the mystical powers they believe it possesses will rub off on them. The statue was brought to Manila by Augustinian priests from Mexico in about 1607, and has survived fires, earthquakes and World War II bombings.
Security guard Jason Mohica believes his four-year-old son was revived by the Nazarene after he was born lifeless for several minutes.
“This has been our annual devotion because this is his second life,” he said.
However, while many hail the statue and the Catholic Church celebrates the outpouring of devotion, not all Filipinos feel the same.
One of the country’s most prominent independent filmmakers, Jim Libiran, described the procession as “a pagan sacred orgy for a Christian idol” that was no different from the hysteria of pop fans.
Yesterday’s march also took on a political note.
In a Mass before the start of the procession, Manila Archbishop Antonio Tagle called on the faithful to respect life.
In a jab at the recently approved reproductive health law opposed by the Catholic Church because it promotes contraceptives and sex education, Tagle said that state funds that should be spent to feed the people, build homes and schools “are instead used for instruments of death.”
“I hope that more people will come forward as witnesses to the sanctity of life,” he said.