Manila (AsiaNews) - Millions of Filipino Catholics took to the streets to participate in the procession of the Black Nazarene on its feast day, one of the most felt in the whole country.
According to priests in Quiapo district, where the statue of the Black Nazarene is housed throughout the year, approximately ten million people may have turned out for the procession. However, exact figures are not yet available.
The municipal government has deployed more than 3,500 law enforcement officers to ensure order during the festival, also known as 'traslación'. However, a man appears to have died during the procession from a heart attack.
The procession commemorates the first time the statue was moved, from a church in Manila's Intramuros district to Quiapo, on 9 January 1767.
The statue of the Black Nazarene represents Jesus bent under the weight of the cross. A Spanish Augustinian priest brought it to Manila in 1607 aboard a ship from Mexico.
According to tradition, the boat caught fire during the trip, but the image of Christ miraculously escaped the fire but turned colour black. Despite the damage, the population of Manila decided to preserve and honour the effigy.
Since then, the statue has been called the Black Nazarene and many people claim that they were healed of their illness by touching its surface.
Over the centuries, the aura surrounding the miraculous image of Christ has made it a symbol of the Filipino people.
Some years ago, the bishops sent a copy of the statue to the Christians in Mindanao, for they are too far away to participate in the mass procession in Quiapo.
The celebrations are held in Cagayan de Oro as well as in the capital on 9 January, feast day of the Nazarene, and on Good Friday.
Card Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, led the festivities this morning. In his address, he invited the faithful present to change their lives, with primary emphasis on humility and spirituality.
"Look up to God, look back and bow down to Him," Tagle said in his homily. "A true devotee is one who looks up, look backs and bows down to God, knowing fully well that without Him, he is nothing".