Christ statue procession in Philippines draws throngs of devotees

MANILA (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of devotees in the Philippines, many of them barefooted, joined a chaotic procession on Tuesday that featured a black statue of Jesus Christ, one of the biggest annual festivals in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

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The faithful gathered in downtown Manila to follow a carriage bearing the statue called the Black Nazarene, believed to have healing powers, in a parade that began at dawn and may last until evening or even longer.

Some of them jostled and climbed onto the carriage as it was pushed and pulled by dozens of men holding ropes, while the crowd waved towels and handkerchiefs in a sign of praise to the kneeling life-sized image that carried a cross on one shoulder.

Processions and other religious rites were also held elsewhere in the country of 105 million people to celebrate the feast.

Citing police estimates, media said this year’s festivities may draw 17 million devotees nationwide, some seeking healing for illnesses and forgiveness for sins and others offering thanks for blessings.

Rogelio Lim said all his wishes had come true since he became a Black Nazarene devotee in 1977.

“My child is now a medicine graduate,” he told Reuters. “I have been spared diseases. I have been blessed with a house. Everything we wished for. A good job. Everything. This is why I am here, to thank Him.”

The Philippine Red Cross said it had assisted more than 700 devotees who were feeling unwell, or suffered injuries amid the parade’s growing crowds, many of whom clamored to reach toward the icon.

Alvin Carlos said he felt stronger after touching the Black Nazarene.

“Rain or shine, I gained the strength to continue because of my strong faith in Him,” he said.

More than 4,000 police and soldiers were deployed to ensure the Manila procession would be peaceful, said Oscar Albayalde, the capital’s police chief.

Additional reporting and writing by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez