January 9, 2011 / 7:47 AM / 10 years ago

Barefoot Filipinos parade Christ statue in capital

MANILA (Reuters) - Nearly 2 million barefoot devotees, mostly in maroon shirts, thronged the streets of Manila on Sunday as a centuries old black statue of Jesus Christ, believed to have healing powers, was paraded through the old city.

The wooden, life-sized Black Nazarene, carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines in the early 17th century, is taken out of the Quiapo Church in Manila on January 9 each year for the largest parade in the predominately Roman Catholic country.

Hundreds fainted in the heat or were hurt in the rush of people in the narrow streets. Nine devotees were taken to nearby hospitals due to hypertension, cuts and fractures. About half a million people gathered for an early morning Mass at a public park before the procession, police said.

“Lord, please forgive me for all my sins and help me win the lottery jackpot to help my family,” a 52-year-old woman who gave her name as Beverly told Reuters, holding a placard as she walked barefoot behind the statue.

Another devotee, Jennifer Suvo, said she has been attending the annual procession since she was a child to thank the Black Nazarene for helping her family overcome sickness and financial and personal problems.

“We’re used to the hardships already and we no longer mind being jammed by the people, or even the heat like what we’re experiencing today,” she said.

The police estimated more than 500,000 people, most of them barefoot, took part in the 5 km (3 mile) procession from Manila’s historic public Luneta Park to the Black Nazarene Church, passing through the oldest part of the city.

Many heard Mass before lining the streets to see the icon, dressed in maroon robes and paraded in a wooden carriage, in a festival that has been held in the capital of the former Spanish colony for more than 200 years.

Onlookers threw white towels and handkerchiefs to devotees on the carriage to wipe the statue in the hope of carrying away some of its healing powers.

The Philippines, where nearly 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, is famous for its colourful fiestas and religious processions, with the Black Nazarene also paraded through the streets on Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Christ.

Writing by Manny Mogato; Editing by Andrew Marshall

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