Manila (AsiaNews) – This morning, more than a million and a half Filipinos joined the traditional procession of the black Nazarene in Manila.
Each year, the centuries-old wooden statue of Christ is taken through the old centre of the capital welcomed by prayerful Filipinos and tourists asking for a personal grace or miracle. Up to 18 million people were expected to take part in the event throughout the day.
To avoid accidents or attacks, the authorities imposed tight security measures. Foreign embassies had issued warnings to their nationals to be cautious. About 4,000 soldiers, police, and emergency workers were on duty in the streets of the capital.
More than 100 devotees suffered minor injuries, the Filipino Red Cross said. In 2016, two people were killed and more than 1,200 people suffered minor injuries.
As the carriage with the Black Nazarene statue moved, pushed from behind and pulled by ropes, the faithful tried to touch the image of Jesus.
"My purpose here is to give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings he has given me and my family every day," said Jimray Bacomage, 37.
More than 80 percent of the more than 100 million people of the Philippines are Roman Catholic and the former Spanish colony is famous for its colourful religious festivals. The procession of the Black Nazarene is one of the best known.
"The Lord solved all the problems that came our way ever since I started attending the Feast of the Black Nazarene 16 years ago," said Roilo Damiucon, 72.
The statue of the Black Nazarene shows Jesus bent under the weight of the cross. It was brought to Manila by a Spanish Augustinian priest in 1607 aboard a ship from Mexico.
According to tradition, the boat caught fire on the way, but the image of Christ miraculously survived and took on a black hue. Despite the damage, the population of Manila decided to preserve and honour the sculpture, which came to be known as the Black Nazarene.
Many people claim to have been healed by touching it. And over the centuries, the miraculous aura surrounding the image of Christ has become a symbol of the Filipino people.
The country’s bishops offered a copy of the original statue to the Christians of Mindanao, who are too far away to attend the Quiapo procession.
The celebrations are also held in Cagayan de Oro in conjunction with those in capital on 9 January, feast day of the Nazarene, and on Good Friday.
Card Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, led the festivities after holding the solemn midnight mass.
In his homily, the cardinal stressed the importance of "unselfish love” against selfishness and personal interests.
To love as Jesus did, the cardinal noted, one needs to focus on "service to others". Only this love can "promote unity" in families, parishes, cities and the country.
Jesus’ baptism, he added, shows that love is concrete because God identified Himself with sinners and showed His love by becoming a human person.
“This is the love that is ready to embrace even the weak and the sinful instead of condemning them, trampling upon them,” Tagle explained. What really matters is “The good of the other”.