Black Nazarene feast draws hundreds of thousands of devotees

January 9, 2024 - 2:31 PM
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Filipino devotees join the annual Catholic procession of the Black Nazarene during its feast day in Manila, Philippines, January 9, 2024. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

 The streets of the Philippine capital turned into a sea of maroon and yellow on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of Catholic devotees joined a procession in honor of the Black Nazarene in Asia’s largest Catholic nation.

The centuries-old tradition of paying homage to the black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, believed to have healing powers, is expected to draw more people as the 400-year-old image, encased in glass, is paraded through the heart of Manila.

An early morning estimate by police put the crowd at more than 830,000 people, excluding those waiting further along the procession’s 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) route.

Jonathan Rancho, 52, like many others, was eager to take part in the religious procession, which in the last three years was cancelled because of COVID-19.

“I am very pleased the old system is back and we get to do this again,” said Rancho, who travelled with his wife and two children from Bulacan province to Manila so they could join the procession.

“I prayed that hopefully this year our livelihoods will get better, I hope that my work would be a success and we be given a prosperous life so I may fulfil my obligations to my family,” Rancho added.

Thousands of police were deployed to ensure order as many of the barefoot devotees tried to climb aboard the carriage holding the statue, which depicts Jesus shouldering a heavy cross.

It is not known why the statue, which was carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines in the early 17th century, turned black. But a Philippine priest, Msgr. Sabino Vengco, claimed the image is dark through its core because it is made of mesquite wood.

About 80% of the country’s 110 million people identify as Roman Catholic, a legacy of hundreds of years as a Spanish colony.

— Reporting by Manila Newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle