Devotees of the Black Nazarene in Manila have started flocking to the city's Quiapo district to pay homage to the 16th century image of the suffering Jesus ahead of the Jan. 9 feast. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Philippine Church officials said they are expecting at least 21 million devotees to attend this year's observance of the feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila on Jan. 9.
At least five million devotees were expected to join the traslacion, a procession to transfer the image of the Nazarene from a park in the city to a church about three kilometers away.
The event, in which devotees participate barefoot, lasted 22 hours last year.
Father Danichi Hui, parochial vicar of the church in Quiapo district, said the celebration, which started on Dec. 31, will culminate with the actual feast next week.
"Last year, we had 21 million from the start of the celebration up to the end," said the priest, adding that the figures came from the government.
Father Hui said the number of devotees this year might even exceed last year.
Meanwhile, the rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, called on devotees to pray for the country's political leaders during the religious observance.
"Part of the Christian faith is to pray for the leaders of our country, leaders in our society, including our president, everyone who serves in our government," said Monsignor Hernando Coronel.
The call came despite tirades against the Catholic Church by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
In one, the president called God "stupid" and described the Catholic teaching of the trinity "silly."
Similar Black Nazarene processions will be held simultaneously in the provinces of Davao, Samar, Nueva Vizcaya, Palawan, Bicol, and the city of Cagayan de Oro on Jan. 9.
For the first time, the northern province of Batanes will also hold a procession while Filipinos working in the United Arab Emirates are also scheduled to hold one.
"This is to show our love for the Nazarene who is one with us," said Monsignor Coronel.
The "Black Nazarene" is a life-size wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ carrying the cross. It was supposedly brought to Manila by Augustinian priests in 1607.
Tradition holds that it got its dark color after it was burned in a fire that hit the Spanish galleon transporting it.
The police have announced that drones will be banned during the procession due to security reasons.
At least 7,100 police officers will be deployed during the procession. The military will also be on hand to provide security for one of the biggest annual events in the country.