Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos honour Black Nazarene in annual festival

MANILA, Philippines — Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics in the Philippines followed a centuries old statue of Jesus Christ through the streets of Manila on Saturday as part of annual ritual in which devotees express gratitude and seek redemption from sins, miracle cures and a better life.
The Black Nazarene's mostly male devotees - barefoot and clad in maroon shirts - converged for an early morning mass at the sprawling grounds of a seaside parade grandstand before the statue was paraded toward Manila's Quiapo Church, its home.
The crowd numbered at least 1 million, Manila police said, but there were no independent estimates.
The life-size wooden statue of Jesus Christ was brought from Mexico to Manila on a galleon in 1606 by Spanish missionaries. The ship caught fire, but the charred-black statue survived and thus was called the Black Nazarene.
Some believe the figure's continued survival of fires and earthquakes through the centuries, and bombings during World War II, are testament to its mystical powers.
As the statue was pulled through the streets Saturday the most ardent devotees jostled each other to make their way toward the Black Nazarene to touch or kiss it, while others wiped it with towels and handkerchiefs hoping its powers would rub off.
Ricardo Arias, a 59-year-old street vendor, said he vowed to join the annual procession in 1978 to seek a cure for his asthmatic son.
"I brought him to hospitals but the doctors gave up on him," he said. "I made a vow to the beloved Nazarene, and by the grace of God he was cured and now he works in Dubai. I will continue doing this as long as I can."
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said devotees have been moved by their "personal religious experience" but said they should not get carried away, warning that otherwise "it may sink to fanaticism."
A 42-year-old man taking part in the procession died of a suspected heart attack, hospital staff said, while more than 100 were treated mostly for dizziness and fainting.
About 80 per cent of the Philippines 90 million people are Roman Catholic.


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