Masses of Catholic devotees in Manila braved sizzling weather and terrorist fears yesterday in a frenzied bid to touch a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ that is believed to have miraculous powers.
The annual parade, which police said attracted more than one million people, is one of the world’s biggest displays of Catholic devotion and showcases the Philippines’ status as the Church’s bastion in Asia.
Many Filipinos believe touching or getting close to the life-sized statue, which was brought to the Philippines in the early 1600s when the nation was a Spanish colony, can lead to the healing of otherwise incurable ailments and other good fortune.
“If you seek a favor it will be granted as long as you pray hard,” Lolit Gonzales, 45, told AFP as she sat on the sidewalk after taking her turn pulling on a thick length of rope that moved the statue’s carriage forward.
The Manila manicurist attributed the healing two years ago of a painful right knee, which her doctor had told her required surgery and medicines that she could not afford, to taking part in the procession at that time.
Gonzales said she had returned yesterday to ensure her knee ailment did not recur, since she had no health insurance and was the only breadwinner in her family.
The pilgrims walked Manila’s concrete streets as the temperature climbed above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) without footwear as a sign of penance and to imitate a barefoot Jesus carrying the cross before he was crucified.
As of 2:30 p.m. yesterday, the Philippine National Police has not recorded any untoward incident in the ongoing Black Nazarene procession.
PNP chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said they have to be prepared just in case, thus the massive security preparations which was prompted by the series of counter-terror operations in Min-danao last week which led to the killing of Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias ‘Tokboy, and a foreign bomb expert identified only as Abu Naila during separate operations in Sarangani province.
“We expect them to launch retaliatory attacks, thus the very strict security,” he said.
As of 2:30 p.m., the National Capital Region Police Office, headed by Director Oscar D. Albayalde, placed the number of the Black Nazarene crowd approaching Jones Bridge at 1.4 million with another 22,000 gathered outside Quiapo Church.
As of 4 a.m. yesterday, the NCRPO said the crowd gathered at the ‘Pahalik sa Poong Nazareno’ in Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park was about 435,000. More than 3,000 policemen, soldiers and other emergency service personnel were deployed in the area.
Security was very tight in the area with police banning the use of drones and carrying of backpacks, umbrellas, firearms, bladed and other deadly weapons.
Smart Communications Inc. also shut down Smart, TNT and Sun mobile phone services along the Black Nazarene’s procession route in Manila over security concerns.
“Upon the instructions of the National Telecommunications Commission and the Philippine National Police, we have temporarily shut down mobile phone services,” Smart Communications announced on Twitter.
NCRPO’s Albayalde clarified there was no imminent threat to the religious event.
“Wala po tayong natatagpuang any clear and present danger on any terror act o kahit anumang grupo na maaaring magsagawa ng karahasan dito sa ginagawang Traslacion,” the Metro Manila police chief said.