Two people were killed and hundreds injured in Manila during the annual Roman Catholic celebration known as Feast of the Black Nazarene. While the huge crowd on the streets could not be counted exactly, police officials in the Philippines said more than half a million Filipinos are known to participate in the procession, which takes place on January 9 each year. During the Feast of the Black Nazarene, devout Catholics are seen carrying white cloths and trying to touch a wooden carving of Jesus bearing the cross, as they believe this figurine possesses healing powers.
“The brand of religious devotion that we see in Filipino Catholicism is based on a very strong desire of the majority of our people for a more immediate and direct access to divine help or power,” Manuel Victor Sapitula, sociology professor at the University of the Philippines, told the media. “That is why it is sought through physical touch, sound, bodily experience, or any combination of these.”
The figurine, known as the Black Nazarene for its dark complexion, is believed to have been brought to Manila from Mexico during the 1600s. As per folklore, the figurine was being brought aboard a ship that somehow managed to catch fire but nothing happened to the figurine, which is why it is considered to be holy. Since then, millions of believers continue to gather in Manila to get a glimpse of and perhaps touch the Black Nazarene even when it is being carried through the streets of the city on its annual feast day.
Those who observe Feast of the Black Nazarene, including men, women and children, traditionally walk the streets barefoot to show their reverence towards the figurine. Cuts and bruises on the feet and legs are common sightings at the procession just like suffocation and dizziness are. Reportedly, at this year’s procession, one man died of a heart attack followed by delayed medical attention and another died because of a short-lasting stampede.
The Black Nazarene was carried to Quiapo Church, located more than 6 km from where it set out initially. Hundreds of volunteers and government officials guarded the figurine, as it was carried amidst Manila’s frenzied crowd, hoping to maintain order on the streets. Reportedly, 300 volunteers were given diapers to use because they were not allowed to leave their respective stations, and another 2,000 volunteers were deployed on the streets for managing traffic.
Approximately 80 percent of the Philippines’ population are Roman Catholics with only 2.8 percent professing to be evangelical Christians.
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