Manila: Hundreds of thousands of barefoot devotees thronged the streets of Manila on Saturday 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 on January 9 each year for the largest parade in the predominately Roman Catholic country.
Two men collapsed and died, dozens fainted in the heat and many were hurt in the crush of people in the narrow streets. Nearly 1.4 million people gathered for an early morning Mass at a public park before the procession, police said.
"The Black Nazarene gives us strength," Zenaida Villasanta, 47, who travelled from outside Manila with her two sisters to pray for another sick sibling. "We are praying that He will heal my sister. She has cancer and we pray for a miracle."
Another devotee, Bernard Ponce, said he had joined the procession for two years to ask the Nazarene for another child.
"It's tiring, but after you go on the procession, you feel really good," Ponce said. "It feels like a heavy weight is lifted, as if you're starting a new life."
The police estimated more than 500,000 people, most of them barefoot, took part on 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, also in yellow shirts, on the carriage to wipe the statue in the hope of carrying away some of its healing powers.
"This is beautiful, unexpected," Elena Zhirnova, a Russian tourist on her first visit to Manila, said. "I didn't know about this tradition and suddenly I come and see this ceremony. It's very nice. It's very new for me."
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.
First Published: Saturday, January 09, 2010, 13:43