Thu, Jan 10, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Philippine Black Nazarene attracts hordes of believers

AFP, MANILA

The Black Nazarene is taken on a procession as barefoot Catholic devotees flock to mark a feast day in Manila, Philippines, yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Throngs of believers flung themselves at a historic statue of Jesus Christ as it was yesterday paraded through the Philippine capital in an annual festival that is one of the world’s biggest shows of Catholic zeal.

Many in the heaving crowd of men and women, which police said numbered more than 1 million, believe that touching the Black Nazarene, or being in its presence, can heal the sick or grant good fortune.

Devotees massed before dawn to catch a glimpse of the life-sized statue as it was wheeled on a metal float along a 7km route through Manila’s narrow streets by a crew tugging thick ropes.

“I survived a stroke because of him [God]. I will do this every year until I am 100 years old,” said 70-year-old Joaquin Bordado, who has attended the procession for decades.

“God ordered me to do this and I feel no exhaustion,” he added, wearing an ankle-length robe and crown of barbed wire.

Around him people chanted Viva Nazareno (“Long live Nazarene”), cheered and jostled for a glimpse of, or selfie with, the cross-bearing statue, cloaked in a maroon robe and topped with a crown of thorns.

Believers, barefoot as a sign of penitence, scrambled over one another to touch towels to the icon, which is named for its charred appearance. It is believed to have survived a fire in the 17th century while being transported to the Philippines, which became Asia’s bastion of Catholicism as a Spanish colony for 400 years.

Philippine Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said he deployed more than 7,000 officers to guard the event, while mobile phone networks were cut off as a precaution against remotely detonated bombs.

Authorities did not report any specific threat to the procession, but the nation is home to several active insurgencies that have carried out attacks on civilians.

By early afternoon, nearly halfway into the typically 20-hour procession, the Red Cross had already treated nearly 220 patients for cuts, dizziness, bruises and sprains. Every year hundreds are hurt and a few deaths are not unusual.

“It is so dangerous to join the procession. If you see people charging forward, this makes me nervous,” 21-year-old college student Angelica Alcantara said. “Many young people do this for fun, but this is about your faith in God.”

Critics have said that the procession is a mish-mash of superstition and an unnecessary risk for the people who flock to it each year.

However, church officials say the practice is a vibrant expression of faith in a nation of 105 million that includes more than 80 million Catholics.

“If you are an outsider, you will not hear, see or feel that faith. You will only see a very unruly or chaotic situation,” said Father Danichi Hui, a priest at the procession’s destination, Quiapo Church. “But inside there is a rhythm of peace. There is a serenity.”

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