Huge crowd of Filipino Catholics gathers amid terror fears
A mammoth crowd of mostly barefoot Filipino Catholics joined a raucous procession Wednesday of a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ under extra-tight security in Manila due to terrorism fears and recent bomb attacks in the southern Philippines.
Police said they have not monitored any specific threat but that they deployed more than 7,000 personnel, including bomb squads backed by a surveillance helicopter, to secure the annual procession of the wooden Black Nazarene along Manila’s streets. Police expect up to 5 million people to join the dawn-to-midnight procession.
Authorities imposed a gun and liquor ban and cellphone signals were jammed in the vicinity of the procession. Flights over the area were prohibited along with sailing in nearby Manila Bay and along a key river where special police and coast guard forces guarded bridges that the mass of devotees passed through.
Despite the threats and the tropical heat, mobs of devotees in maroon shirts dangerously squeezed their way into the tight pack of humanity around a carriage carrying the life-size statue of Christ. They threw small towels at volunteers on the carriage, which was being pulled by ropes, to wipe parts of the cross and the statue in the belief that the Nazarene’s powers cure ailments and ensure good health and a better life.
“I’m praying so I can walk again and be cured of depression,” said Pochi Maximo, who held on to a wheeled walking device as she waited along a road with her daughter for the procession to pass.
The 58-year-old housewife said she has joined the religious gathering since childhood as part of a family tradition and persisted to be at Wednesday’s procession despite debilitating knee and spine ailments that were diagnosed last year, along with diabetes, that drove her into pits of depression.
“There is a saying in the church that if you look up front, in your back, to your left and right but can’t find a solution to your problems, look up to heaven and you will see the solution,” Maximo said, beaming.
Another devotee, Ryan de Vera, a 29-year-old former finance officer at a local bank, said he squeezed his way through the crowd to touch the hand of the Black Nazarene, which he credited for the recovery of his father from prostate cancer. After the dangerous feat, he was pushed uncontrollably aside by the mass of humanity to a roadside, where his left foot sustained a deep wound caused by a sharp metal piece debris.
After getting treatment at a first-aid station, he limped back to the crowd, still barefoot and smiling. By midday, more than 600 devotees had been treated by Red Cross volunteers for minor injuries, exhaustion and high blood pressure.
Crowned with thorns and bearing a cross, the Nazarene statue is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila on a galleon in 1606 by Spanish missionaries. The ship that carried it caught fire, but the charred statue survived. Some believe the statue’s endurance, from fires and earthquakes through the centuries and intense bombings during World War II, is a testament to its powers. –
Filipino Roman Catholic devotees prepare to mount on the carriage the image of the Black Nazarene for a long and raucous procession to celebrate its feast day on Wednesday.