At least 2 million Catholic devotees, many of them barefoot, gathered in Manila on Thursday for the annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a statue of an ebony Jesus Christ with the Cross thought to bring miracles.
Troops armed with assault rifles joined police in a security lockdown to protect the devotees from possible threats by Islamic militants. There were no immediate reports of any disruptions during the religious procession in the capital of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
Many in the crowd jostled to get close to and touch the statue as a carriage transporting it passed by. The wooden Black Nazarene was believed to have been carved in the 17th century and was saved from a fire aboard a ship that brought the statue here in 1606, when the country was a Spanish colony.
The capital was virtually closed the whole day as the procession took about 20 hours to wind its way through the streets of downtown Manila, National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said.
“It was generally peaceful apart from minor injuries,” Banac told a local radio station. He estimated the crowd to have reached more than 2 million people at its peak, but it could have been larger, he conceded.
This year’s procession saw some families of people killed in the government’s war on illegal drugs join the massive display of religious devotion. They carried pictures of their loved ones who were slain in the bloody campaign, hoping that the killers would be brought to justice.
Mark Dan, who lost three of his friends in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, was among those at Thursday’s procession. The throats of Dan’s friends were slit and their bodies dumped in different parts of Manila, he said.
“I was shocked. I cried because of the brutality of their deaths,” Dan told BenarNews.
“We ask the Nazarene to grant justice … even though it is more than a year now.”