MANILA: Barefoot men and women praying for miracles hurled themselves above huge crowds in the Philippines yesterday to touch a centuries-old icon of Jesus Christ in one of the world’s largest Catholic festivals. Some of the Asian nation’s most fervent scenes of devotion played out through the narrow streets of Manila’s old quarter as the life-sized Black Nazarene statue was carried through a gauntlet of worshippers.
“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 said. The construction worker said he gave up a day’s pay for the sixth year in a row by skipping work to touch the statue, which many Filipinos believe can heal the sick and bring good luck. Risking life and limb, shoeless men and women like Barbo clambered over each other yesterday to touch the icon with white handkerchiefs or towels as others pulled on a rope to haul the metal float bearing the statue forward.
The pilgrims wore yellow or maroon shirts and walked barefoot, playing the role of supplicants. By noon, police said 1.5 million people were taking part in the seven-kilometer parade of the icon, considered by Catholics as a representation of the Son of God. The crowd estimate could not be independently confirmed. Manila city’s civil defence office chief, Johnny Yu, told AFP at least 150 people were treated for various injuries and complaints in the first five hours of the parade, including two with suspected broken bones.
Relationship with God
Police say the slow-moving procession from a Manila park is expected to reach the Nazarene’s traditional home inside the downtown Quiapo church at midnight (1600 GMT). Manila housewife Dang Villacorta, sat on the grass at the park between her sleeping son and a blue beach tent packed with other relatives said she planned to wave a white handkerchief when the procession crawled past. “If family members get sick we would give them sponge baths with it. That way we wouldn’t spend money on doctors,” the 36-year-old said.
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. 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 Quiapo church. “They come to me and say the Lord has performed miracles for them. To the devotees he is for real,” he told reporters earlier in the week, adding he expected “millions and millions” to take part in the parade.
Coronel said a male member of his parish told him his son regained his full sight after being accidentally shot in one eye with a shotgun pellet. A woman also told him her granddaughter miraculously revived after drowning. 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._ AFP