Huge crowd of Filipino Catholics gath­ers amid ter­ror fears

The Myanmar Times - - Asean Focus -

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. –

Photo: As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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