Millions of barefoot devotees packed the streets of the Philippine capital, Manila, yesterday for one of the world’s biggest Catholic parades, honoring a statue of Jesus Christ they believe has miraculous powers.
Braving the suffocating heat, pilgrims clambered over one another to touch the Black Nazarene as the ebony-hued wooden statue was carried slowly from Manila’s main park to a historic church.
“This has been a family tradition for years and the Nazarene has given us many blessings over the years,” housewife Josephine Manalastas said after she and her 80-year-old mother survived being trampled by the surging crowd.
Mother and daughter were taken to an ambulance nearby for treatment after a section of the crowd at the park stampeded over a barrier protecting the statue’s carriage. Medical staff said they were uninjured.
Large numbers of police were mustered to help maintain order along the 6km route, but organizers said at least 300 devotees were injured and one person suffered a potentially fatal stroke.
Schools declared a holiday and police estimated that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had turned up by sunrise.
Hours later, church organizers said that this year’s crowd had outnumbered the estimated 9 million who attended last year, although the number could not be independently verified.
As the procession got underway, devotees climbed on each other’s shoulders to kiss the statue or wipe it with white towels and handkerchiefs.
In scenes reminiscent of a rock concert mosh pit, one determined woman surfed the crowd to reach the icon, only to fall back afterward and be swallowed up by the massive sea of humanity.
For heavily pregnant housewife Kaye Morales, 32, the procession was her way of thanking God after her teenage son survived being pinned under a collapsing glass wall at a shopping mall last year.
Morales, who is seven months’ pregnant, traveled to Manila from a nearby town and lined up for hours to kiss the feet of the statue.
More than 80 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholic and yesterday’s march through Manila — the biggest religious event in the country — is an extreme form of veneration
The life-sized statue was brought to Manila by Augustinian priests from Mexico in 1607. It is believed to have acquired its color after it was partially burnt when the galleon carrying it caught fire.
Many Filipinos believe the icon is miraculous and that by joining the procession, barefoot as a mark of humility, their prayers will be answered.
Manila worker Wilson Faculto said he and his wife could not conceive, but after first joining the procession five years ago, they received a baby last month.
“A woman we didn’t know gave us her baby for adoption and walked away,” he said, cradling the two-month-old in his arms. “This boy is our Nazarene miracle.”
In a daybreak mass at the site, Manila’s archbishop, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, asked the pilgrims to pray for the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan which left nearly 8,000 dead or missing last year.