Faster Black Nazarene procession in Manila irks devotees

Participants say the event has been marred by tighter security measures
Faster Black Nazarene procession in Manila irks devotees

Devotees climb onto the carriage carrying the statue of the Black Nazarene as they try to touch it during an annual religious procession in Manila on Jan. 9. (Photo: Maria Tan/AFP)

The religious procession of Manila's Black Nazarene image, which attracts millions annually, moved faster than usual this year, much to the dismay of some devotees.

"They've denied us access to God," said one frustrated devotee who was prevented from approaching the carriage carrying the image of the suffering Jesus.

Barefooted Victor Marcelo, 27, a devotee of the Nazarene since he was 17 years old, complained of being stepped on by policemen wearing military boots.

Authorities estimated that more than two million devotees, who all walk barefoot for the occasion, had so far joined the first few hours of the traslación of the Black Nazarene, which usually lasts for about 20 hours.

Manila's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said that as of 9am on Jan. 9, there were about 2.4 million devotees at the procession.

The carriage of the Black Nazarene left Luneta National Park in Manila for a church in the city's Quiapo district about 4am, about an hour earlier than in previous years.

Authorities said more than six million devotees were expected to participate in the religious procession, jostling each other to touch the religious image.

This year, an estimated 14,000 security personnel have been deployed to secure the route to lessen what police officers described as risks of possible criminal and terrorist acts.

Police barricades flanked the icon’s carriage, depriving many devotees of reaching the carriage to touch the image, a practice that has become a highlight of previous processions.

A line of policemen holding a rope also stood on either side of the streets where the procession passed, preventing many devotees from joining the flow of the crowd.

Imelda Francisco, who stayed up all night to await the procession, complained that the police had "hijacked" the Black Nazarene.

"Why are they preventing us from going near the Lord? God is for all of us, not only for government officials, police and priests," said Francisco.

The tight security, however, did not prevent several devotees from going up the carriage, known as the andas, to touch and wipe the face of the image.

"It was my vow. I had to do it and nobody could prevent me from doing it," said Michael Almario, a 23-year-old devotee who said he was doing it for a sick relative.

Authorities appealed to devotees to remain orderly and cooperate with the police.

"We only want the traslacion to be held successfully, safe and orderly, with no untoward incidents for the benefit of all," said police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.

Before noon, police officials dismissed the troops accompanying the procession, allowing devotees to take over managing the pace of the traslacion.

Church officials earlier said they expect the number of people participating in the annual observance to exceed the four million last year.

The annual procession recalls the transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene from an Augustinian church in the old walled city of Manila to the basilica in the city's Quiapo district.

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