The sea of people swayed left and right, forward and backward, as an estimated six million barefoot devotees displayed frenzied devotion to the image of the Black Nazarene during a religious procession that lasted 22 hours. "Viva Senor Nazareno," the throng roared as men, women, and even children, pulled on a rope tied to a carriage carrying the image of a charred Jesus during the snail-paced parade through the narrow streets of the Philippine capital Manila. The number of people who joined the procession reached about 6.3 million, double that of last year, according to Joel Coronel, chief of Manila Police District. At least 18 million people attended the annual celebration. The procession reached the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene
in Manila's Quiapo district at about 3 a.m. on Jan. 10, around 22 hours after it started in Luneta Park early in the morning of the previous day. Cloaked in a maroon robe, crowned with thorns and bearing a cross, the Nazarene statue was brought to Manila by Augustinian friars in 1607, during Spanish colonial rule. The annual procession featuring the image, which covers a seven-kilometer route, commemorates the "solemn transfer" in 1787 of the Nazarene from the San Nicolas de Tolentino chapel in the old city of Manila to Quiapo Church. The image was supposedly carved by an anonymous Mexican sculptor and brought to Manila via a galleon from Acapulco. Traditional accounts attribute the color to candles burning before the image, although the most widespread belief is that a fire on the galleon charred it. Bringing people closer to God
Father Douglas Badong, vicar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, noted the increase in the number of devotees who joined the procession this year. "There was really a huge crowd the entire route," said the priest, adding that street parties along the route also slowed the procession, which was "orderly and peaceful." Monsignor Hernando Coronel, rector of the basilica, thanked the organizers of the festival, which he described as a "huge endeavor of faith." He said prayer stations introduced for this year's procession "helped in deepening the faith of our devotees." For the second year, live social media streaming of the event allowed Filipinos living abroad to enjoy the spectacle. The celebration was meant to bring people closer "to the love of the Nazarene," Fr. Coronel said.
Devotees of the Black Nazarene swarm the carriage carrying the image during the annual religious procession that lasted 22 hours this year. (Photo by Rob Reyes) Papal nuncio amazed
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Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said the huge crowd who attended the Mass before the annual procession amazed Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the new papal nuncio to the country. "Even before he was assigned here, he had heard so much about the devotion of Filipinos.... He wanted to [personally] see," said the cardinal. Cardinal Tagle said that when the nuncio saw the crowd he said: "Look at how the faith of the people can inspire us." "I told him it’s not yet the [whole] crowd as the procession happens later," said the cardinal who delivered the homily during the midnight Mass on Jan. 9. Display of religious fervor
Thousands of devotees started to gather
in Manila's Luneta Park on Jan.8 for the traditional kissing of the image and midnight Mass prior to the procession. Men surrounding the carriage pulled ropes, while the crowd waved white towels and handkerchiefs while shouting praises to the Lord. Those who could not join the procession raised their arms or knelt by the roadside in prayer. Celebrations in honor of the Black Nazarene were also celebrated in various parts of the country. In Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, an estimated 200,000 people joined a two-hour procession despite threats of attacks by extremist groups. Authorities deployed at least a thousand uniformed security personnel who formed a human chain along the procession route. In central Bohol province, devotees walked to local a mountain where a celebration in honor of the suffering Christ was held. In Manila, a devotee died of a heart attack at the height of the procession. Ramil dela Cruz, a 51-year old prison officer, complained of chest pain after descending from the image’s carriage. He was rushed to hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Medical workers said more than 1,000 people were treated for various medical conditions, including minor injuries. Held every year on Jan. 9, the Feast of the Black Nazarene
is one of the biggest religious events in Asia.