Traditional Procession in Philippines Draws Millions

Terrorist Alert Fails to Deter Faithful

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ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A traditional procession in the Philippines drew millions again this year, though there were alerts before the event of possible terrorist activity.

The Monday procession of the «Black Nazarene» — an image of Christ bearing the cross that has been blackened by fire — reportedly had as many as 7 million participants.

The procession is one of the most traditional manifestations of devotion in the archipelago. The image, which depicts Christ with the cross, is presented to the faithful in the Minor Basilica of Quiapo in Manila. The impressive popular devotion goes back 400 years when, according to tradition, on May 31, 1606, the sculpture was miraculously saved from a fire that broke out on the ship transporting it from Mexico to Manila. Blackened by the fire, hence the name «Black Nazarene,» the statue was also saved from fires that devastated the Basilica of Quiapo in 1791 and 1929, as well as from severe earthquakes in 1645 and 1863, and the bombing of Manila in 1945.

Every Jan. 9, the image of Christ, bent under the weight of the cross, is taken on a cart through the streets of Manila, attracting a multitude of people — many of whom walk barefoot in memory of Christ on Calvary. 

Although the procession ends every year with numerous injuries and even deaths because of the vast crowds, the authorities regarded particularly serious the credible threat of an attack this year. The president issued a warning, but the faithful were not deterred. Extra precautions were also taken, including the blocking of cell phone service in the area during the procession, to prevent the use of cell phones to detonate bombs. 

The leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines — who do not discourage such expressions of popular devotion, though up to now they have not recognized a miracle attributed to the procession of the Black Nazarene — welcomed the peaceful outcome. 

Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila thanked the president for his concern. In his homily, the archbishop prayed in particular for the victims of the typhoon that recently struck the southern Philippines. «The image of the Black Nazarene shows us how the power of God, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, can help us to overcome the difficulties of life,» he said.

The Fides news agency spoke with Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez of Manila, who said: «The terror warnings did not discourage the faithful. Indeed, many of them say that, if they died during the procession of the Nazarene, performing an act of faith, they would certainly go to Paradise. The Nazarene works miracles, a brother in suffering, a message of hope for the poor: nothing can stop the faithful. […] What is striking is that the Nazarene is a reference point especially for young people, many of whom are present in today’s event.»

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