Filipino Catholics hold big procession after pandemic eases

Jan 7, 2023, 5:53 AM | Updated: 10:35 pm
Devotees participate in the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of...

Devotees participate in the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The Black Nazarene draws massive numbers of largely poor devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

              Devotees join the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees wave towels and replicas of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, as they reach Quiapo church during the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for his feast day on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee cries as she joins the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A man dressed in a Spiderman costume joins the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee holds a mini image of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, as he join the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for his feast day on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee prays in front of the Quiapo church as he waits for the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees pray during a Mass before the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees, some wearing face masks, hold candles as they join the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees gather at the start of the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee touches the feet of an image of the Black Nazarene as part of celebrations for his feast day and the "Walk of Faith" procession at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila, on Saturday Jan. 7, 2023. The annual Black Nazarene procession which is attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees has been cancelled due to COVID concerns. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              An image of the Black Nazarene is seen through glass as part of celebrations for his feast day and the "Walk of Faith" procession at the Quirino Grandstand on Saturday Jan. 7, 2023. The annual Black Nazarene procession which is attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees has been cancelled due to COVID concerns. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee touches the feet of an image of the Black Nazarene as part of celebrations for his feast day and the "Walk of Faith" procession at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila, Saturday Jan. 7, 2023. The annual Black Nazarene procession which is attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees has been cancelled due to COVID concerns. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              A devotee wearing a face mask holds a replica of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, as he joins the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for his feast day on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The annual Black Nazarene feast day which will be held on Jan. 9 draws massive numbers of devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees wave their towels as they join in the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The Black Nazarene draws massive numbers of largely poor devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
            
              Devotees participate in the "Walk of Faith" procession as part of celebrations for the feast day of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old charred statue of Jesus Christ, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. The Black Nazarene draws massive numbers of largely poor devotees who pray for the sick and a better life in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Thousands of Catholic devotees, many donning protective masks and bearing candles, joined a night procession through downtown Manila early Sunday to venerate a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ, which was not paraded to discourage an even larger crowd amid lingering fears of COVID-19.

The more than 80,000 devotees who church officials said joined the nearly 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) “Walk of Faith” procession were a fraction of the more than a million worshippers who typically converged in pre-pandemic years to pay homage to the life-size Black Nazarene statue in one of Asia’s biggest religious festivals.

In chaotic dawn-to-midnight processions in the past, when the Black Nazarene was paraded on a carriage pulled by ropes, mobs of mostly poor, barefoot devotees in maroon shirts would squeeze their way through the crowd around the slow-moving carriage to throw towels at volunteers, who wiped parts of the statue in the belief that the Nazarene’s powers would cure ailments and ensure good health and a better life.

Without the Nazarene, Sunday’s procession from a historic park by Manila Bay to a church in Quiapo district was orderly but still intense, with many worshippers mumbling prayers and others singing and chanting “Nazareno” as they marched in the early hours of the morning. Many carried replicas of the religious icon. The procession, which kicked off after a midnight Mass, was completed in less than three hours.

Officials of the church in Quiapo, where the Nazarene is enshrined throughout the year, brought the statue to a grandstand at Rizal Park before Sunday’s procession to allow worshippers to pray before it through the weekend up to Monday, when the annual feast of the Black Nazarene is celebrated. Kissing the statue was prohibited due to fears the action could spread COVID-19 infections.

Teresa Pateañe, a 51-year-old devotee who carried a Nazarene replica, said the religious gathering was not the same without the mystical statue amid a sea of worshippers jostling to touch it in a show of piety.

“We are sad because we cannot do the things we used to do, like climbing up the carriage,” she told The Associated Press. “But we are very thankful that the (Black Nazarene) is already on the grandstand. The people can see it again.”

The religious Nazarene procession was suspended at the height of COVID-19 outbreaks the last two years in the Philippines, one of the hardest-hit countries by the pandemic in Southeast Asia. Church officials decided not to parade the Nazarene this year as a precaution, even after the pandemic eased, but organized the religious march as an alternative at a time of widespread social and economic distress.

Police were on alert and deployed thousands of personnel to secure the country’s largest gathering and remind devotees not to congregate too closely for health reasons.

The Nazarene statue is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila on a galleon in 1606 by Spanish missionaries. The ship that carried it caught fire, but the charred statue survived. Many devotees believe the statue’s endurance, from fires and earthquakes through the centuries and intense bombings during World War II, is a testament to its miraculous powers.

The spectacle reflects the unique brand of Catholicism, which includes folk superstitions, in Asia’s largest Catholic nation. Dozens of Filipinos have themselves nailed to crosses on Good Friday in another unusual tradition to emulate Christ’s suffering that draws huge crowds of worshippers and tourists each year.

___

Associated Press journalist Bogie Calupitan contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Filipino Catholics hold big procession after pandemic eases