01/05/2018, 15.50
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Some 20 million Catholics are expected in Manila for the Black Nazarene procession

by Santosh Digal

The traditional procession of the wooden statue of Christ through the streets of central Manila on 9 January includes strict security measures. The mayor issued an order closing schools and public offices. A ban on carrying arms and selling alcohol will be in place.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Some twenty million Catholics are set to mark the end of celebrations in honour of the Black Nazarene, which began on 31 December and will end on 9 January.

This involves the traditional carriage of the centuries-old wooden statue of Christ through the streets of central Manila.

Every year, the traslacion (transfer) of the holy sculpture (pictured) from its original site at the San Nicolas Tolentino Church in Intramuros to the Quiapo Church brings the novena to a close amid millions of believers gathered in prayer, asking for a grace or a personal miracle.

In the Philippines, a predominantly Christian nation in Asia, more than 80 per cent of its population of 105 million is Catholic. The procession of the Black Nazarene is one of its most famous and popular religious events.

The statue of the Black Nazarene represents Jesus bent under the weight of the Cross. It was brought to Manila by an Augustinian priest from Spain in 1607 on a ship from Mexico.

According to tradition, the boat caught fire during the journey, but the image of Christ miraculously escaped the flames taking on the black hue. The procession celebrates the first transfer of the statue on 9 January 1767.

Quiapo Church security officials said they expect 20 million people on 9 January, 5 per cent more than last year. The ceremony last 21 hours in 2017.

The large influx of believers from around the country and abroad requires strict security measures. This year the police have not identified any direct threats to the event. About 7,000 uniformed agents and 500 soldiers will be deployed.

Manila police announced a gun ban on the whole metro area starting midnight on 8 January until midnight on 10 January. Cellular sites within a one-kilometre radius of the ceremony will also be temporarily shut down. The entire metropolitan area will also be a no-fly zone, not just for drones but for aircrafts as well.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada also issued an executive order imposing a temporary ban on the sale, consumption, and distribution of liquor within a 500-metre radius of the procession route.

All government offices and classes in schools, colleges and universities in and around Manila will remain closed on 9 January.

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