MANILA, Philippines — Two people are dead and hundreds were injured on Saturday as massive throngs sought to press up against a centuries-old statue of Christ that was marched through the streets of Manila as part of an annual Roman Catholic celebration called the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno estimates that 1.4 million people participated in the procession, which takes place every Jan. 9th in the city. Roman Catholics carry white cloths and seek to touch the wood carving of Jesus carrying the cross out of their belief that it possesses healing powers or can bring good fortune.
This year was no exception, as some followers along the 20-hour procession handed cloths to those who were adjacent to the carriage, hoping that they could swipe the idol for them.
“When I was a young woman, I walked on my knees and begged the Black Nazarene to give me a good husband,” 72-year-old Nilda Saavedra, told reporters. “I also prayed that all my three children could finish college. All my prayers were heard.”
The carving, known as the Black Nazarene for the figure’s dark complexion, is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila in the 1600’s. It was carried aboard a ship, and although the vessel caught fire, it was not destroyed.
For the past 200 years, millions have flooded the streets as the wooden carving is carried through Manila for its annual feast day. Those who observe the occasion, which includes men, women and children alike, usually walk the streets barefoot as a gesture of reverence toward the statue. The event can sometimes become dangerous as the throngs push one another out of the way.
“Today, they cause chaos. Sometimes, while the carriage is still being moved out of the church, some devotees are already fighting,” Teresita De Guzman, 71, who has participated in the annual procession for 50 years, told the Philippine Star. “Others even stab and hit each other just to get closer to the Señor.”
Reports state that one man, Alex Fulyedo, 27, died after suffering a seizure during the event, and a candle vendor, Mauro Arabit, 58, had a heart attack and was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital.
The Philippine Red Cross says that it treated over 1,200 people for injuries, which included cuts, abrasions and bruises, as well as those who sought to have their blood pressure checked. A few also complained of shortness of breath or struggled with ailments that required hospitalization.
The procession began at 6 a.m. on Saturday and concluded at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, and was guarded by an estimated 5,000 police officers and members of the military.
As previously reported, the vast majority of Filipinos—approximately 80 percent—are Roman Catholic. Only an estimated 2.8 percent of the population professes to be evangelical Christian.