Catholic devotees jostle to get closer and kiss the statue of the Black Nazarene in a raucous procession in Manila on Tuesday. Image Credit: AP

Manila: A mammoth gathering of more than two million people joined a procession that began at Manila’s Luneta Park at 5am on Tueday and would end at 5am on Wednesday at a nearby Catholic church in Quiapo district.

The procession in one of the biggest annual church festivals in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Hundreds of thousands of devotees, many who had walked barefoot, patiently waited for the arrival of the Black Nazarene statue, on Plaza Miranda, outside of Quiapo district’s Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.

Many waved their hands, shouted “viva,” and attempted to clamber onto the big truck that carried a 400-year old cross bearing a statue representing Jesus, with the help of ropes dangling from the truck’s bumper or by being lifted up by other devotees.

Joselyn Juan brought along her three young children at Manila’s iconic Catholic festival dubbed as “Translacion”.

“Organisers have created special lanes for children, pregnant, women, and old people,” Juan told Gulf News.

Her husband Jose boldly swung up Guapo, one of their children, to the waiting hands of frenzied devotees on the big truck.

“It is for good luck and healing of the sick in the family,” said the father who immediately got his child back as he stepped on a sea of people.

They mingled with vendors and heard a marathon of sermons for 24 hours – through blaring speakers.

One of those who waited outside the church was Rudy Añonuevo, 72, a self-styled spiritual healer from suburban Quezon City.

He showed journalists and TV cameras his small replica of the velvet maroon-clad Black Nazarene which was made in 2002.

Parked near the church, devotees threw their handkerchiefs to the statue, hoping for “divine healing”.

Near the church’s wall, Sonia Corpen showed on TV stalls of bread, bottles of water, and packed lunches that she gave away for free to devotees.

“I am continuing what several generations in my family have been doing - giving free food to devotees for 80 years,” Corpen said.

Triumpo Barlizo, 71, had miniature figures of the Black Nazarene, in fibre glass, displayed on top of his wheelchair, where he sat outside of the church.

Paralysed from the waist down since 1979, Barlizo has been lining up food and other items – outside of the church every day.

“The Black Nazarene procession is a special day – it gives us more than a thousand pesos a day,” said the resident of a non-government organisation’s dwelling place for poor people on Manila’s Arlequi Street.

One devotee had a neck and spine injury. Another fell from the carriage of the Black Nazarene.

“They were rushed to nearby hospitals,” the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) said, adding a total of 652 devotees were injured just hours after the Black Nazarene left the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta’s central park at five Tuesday morning.

This means more people will be injured. Many of them were barefooted even if authorities said they should wear shoes, one of 2,000 health volunteer said, adding that injuries included asthma attacks, bruises, cuts, dizziness, fever, fractures, and raised blood pressure.

“Were preventing deaths,” said the volunteer. Two devotees died last year.

PRC was assisted by 58 ambulances, nine first aid stations, and eight rescue trucks on streets where the procession passed, including side streets where residents of Manila also celebrated a “district fiesta”.

“The risks undertaken by Catholic devotees should be seen as a leap of faith,” said scholars when asked if the ritual was also viewed as paganistic. Catholic leaders supported the event. More than 80 million of 100 million Filipinos are Roman Catholics – after Spain’s almost 400 years of colonization from 1521 to 1898.

Fashioned by a carver from a dark wood in Mexico in 1600, the Black Nazarene was sent to the Philippines in 1606, placed in several churches near Manila, until it rested at Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in 1787.