MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Over a million barefoot devotees hoped for another year of blessings and fulfilled dreams as they inched their way across the streets of Manila on Saturday, January 9, to participate in one of the country’s biggest religious festivals.
On Saturday morning, January 9, the devotees – expected to swell to millions throughout the day – began to take part in the annual "traslacion" or the procession of the Black Nazarene image through the streets of Manila.
Chief Superintendent Kim Molitas, National Capital Region Police Office spokesperson, said the crowd was estimated at 1 million as of 6 am, and 1.2 million as of 7 am. The crowd estimate reached 1.5 million as of 10 am.
The procession began from the Quirino Grandstand and will return to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, also known as the Quiapo Church. Molitas said the number of people inside and outside the church was estimated at 110,000 as of 10 am Friday.
The image would usually reach Quiapo church either late Saturday evening or the first hours of Sunday, January 10. But the procession on Saturday morning was observed to be moving at a faster pace than in previous years.
In 2012, the procession took 22 hours after the wheels of the carriage bearing the Black Nazarene broke off early in the procession. The rope pulling the carriage broke hours later as well.
That year, an estimated 8 million devotees took part in the procession.
In 2014, devotees “hijacked” the procession, cutting short the mass as they ran past security barriers to get to the image. Last year, the procession took 19 hours.
'Meaning to life'
"The Nazarene, our Lord, gave meaning to my life," Nino Barbo, a 30-year-old high school dropout with an upper arm tattoo and a metal earring told Agence France-Presse.
The construction worker said he skipped work for the day, for the sixth year in a row, to take part in the parade of the image, which many Filipinos believe can heal the sick and bring good luck.
Risking life and limb, shoeless participants wearing maroon and yellow shirts clambered over each other to touch the icon with white handkerchiefs or towels as others pulled on a rope to haul the metal float bearing the statue forward.
Manila city's civil defense office chief, Johnny Yu, said at least 70 people had been treated for various injuries and complaints in the first two hours of the parade.
Critics say the parade amounts to idolatry, but Church authorities say it is a vibrant expression of faith in one of the world's most fervently Catholic nations. (READ: Cardinal Tagle on Nazareno: 'Siya ang humahawak sa atin')
More than 80 million of the Asian nation's 100 million people consider themselves Catholics.
"The people reach out to it because they have a personal relationship with God," said Monsignor Hernando Coronel, the parish priest of downtown Manila's Quiapo church, the endpoint of the 7-kilometer parade.
"They come to me and say the Lord has performed miracles for them. To the devotees, he is for real," he said.
Cloaked in a maroon robe, crowned with thorns and bearing a cross, the Nazarene statue was brought to Manila by Augustinian priests in 1607, decades after the start of Spain's colonial rule.
It was believed to have acquired its color after being partially burnt when the galleon carrying it caught fire on a voyage from Mexico, another Spanish colony at the time. – with a report from Agence-France Presse/Rappler.com