MANILA — Tens of thousands of Filipino Catholic devotees jammed the
streets of the capital Friday, throwing handkerchiefs and surging
forward for a chance to touch a black statue of Jesus Christ that many
believe can deliver miracles.

The annual procession honoring
the 402-year-old image of Christ—known as the Black Nazarene—took a
different route this year to give the devotees more space and reduce
the chance stampede, which has sometimes marred past events.

barefoot devotees dive back to the crowd after climbing to touch the
image of the Black Nazarene during a procession to celebrate its 402nd
anniversary in Manila. (Photo: AP)

life-sized wooden figure—believed to have been brought by Spanish
missionaries from Mexico in 1606—made its way through the streets of
Manila in a cart pulled by plainclothes police officers as barefoot,
mostly male devotees wearing traditional maroon shirts pushed against
each other and stretched hands to get closer.

The cart was pulled
on a rope on its way back to the downtown Quiapo church. During the
past events, the statue was pulled around the church square, but this
time organizers decided to take it first to a central park and through
the city streets so more people would have a chance to see it.

1,500 police were securing the procession. Police said the figure was
fitted for the first time with a global positioning satellite device to
make it easier to track.

Many believe the Black Nazarene holds
mystical powers that can wash away sins or cure illnesses. People hurl
towels or handkerchiefs to be wiped on the image.

"I believe that Nazarene will give me what I’m asking for," said Joselito Pagul, who turns up for the procession every year.

police estimate of the crowd was immediately available, but radio and
television reports put it at tens of thousands. Last year, about 80,000
took part and two people died.

The Spanish missionaries’ ship
that brought the original statue to the Philippines, a former colony,
caught fire and the image was burned but survived as a testament to a
unique brand of Catholicism that combines folk superstitions. The
Philippines, Asia’s predominantly Christian nation, is 80 percent

The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales,
said many Filipinos are devoted to the Black Nazarene because they
identify with him in the midst of poverty and suffering.

see Christ in themselves when they suffer from poverty and oppression,"
Rosales said at a dawn Mass. "In their devotion they see God’s love for
them amid all this misery."

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