Parading through Manila, barefoot


MANILA, Jan 9 (Reuters) — Hundreds of thousands of devotees thronged the streets of Manila on Friday as a centuries old black statue of Jesus Christ, believed to have healing powers, was taken out in an annual procession.

The wooden Black Nazarene, carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines in the early 17th century, is taken out of the Quipao Church on Jan. 9 each year for the parade.

Injuries, and sometimes deaths, are common during the procession because of the crush of people in the narrow streets of Manila's old city. However, there were no such reports on Friday. Many of the devotees were barefoot.

"I could hardly move around and walk because of my age and health but the Black Nazarene gave me strength to be here today. It's a miracle," 60 year-old Elvira Tuason told Reuters, holding a candle at the procession with her older brother.

Another devotee, Danny Saulo, 67, said he has not missed a single Black Nazarene procession in almost 40 years despite an illness that has impaired his ability to walk.

"Of course, it's very difficult for me, but I will be happy to die while doing this. It's a personal sacrifice," he added.

The police estimated more than 150,000 people walked barefoot in the 5 km (3 mile) procession from Manila's historic public Luneta Park to the Black Nazarene church, passing through the narrow streets in the oldest part of the city.

The religious festival has been held for more than 200 years, attracting close to a million people every year. Dozens of people collapsed due to heat, said police who were guarding the religious parade to prevent a stampede.

Hundreds of thousands more devotees heard Mass and lined the streets to see the icon, dressed in maroon robes and paraded in a wooden carriage.

Onlookers threw white towels and handkerchiefs to devotees on the carriage to wipe the statue in the hope of carrying away some of its healing powers.

"I have diabetes, a heart condition and ulcer but I know the Black Nazarene can cure me," said Sonia Are 67, who travelled from the south to get a glimpse of the icon. (Reporting by Michaela Cabrera; Writing by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)