Philippines: Devotees jostle for 22 hours to touch Black Nazarene

CNN  — 

Wailing worshippers crammed the hot streets of the Philippines’ capital for 22 hours Monday as they fought to make contact with a holy statue believed to grant miracles.

More than a million Catholics joined this year’s Traslacion, a dramatic religious parade returning a dark, life-size wooden statue of Jesus – called the Black Nazarene – to the Quiapo Church in Manila.

The parade started Monday at the Quirino Grandstand, and the procession finally ended on Tuesday morning just after 3:30 a.m., local time, when the Black Nazarene statue was returned to the Quiapo Church.

The route was only 6.9 kilometers (4.3 miles) long, but the huge crowds reduced the pace to a shuffle.

Traslacion means “transfer,” referring to the transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene to the church. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Sunday announced that 18 million participants from across the country were expected to join the procession.

However, police estimated that only about 1.5 million devotees turned out.

The Black Nazarene dates back to 1606, when the statue of Jesus kneeling on one knee arrived in the Philippines from Mexico. In 1620, the first confraternity dedicated to the Black Nazarene was established.

In 1767, the popularity of the icon was recognized by Christian leaders when the Black Nazarene was moved to the Quiapo Church and its devotees followed.

The annual festival of the Black Nazarene is a potentially hazardous religious festival, made more dangerous by a possible threat from Islamic extremists.

This year marked the 411th Traslacion, with its barefoot participants widely believing that touching, rubbing and kissing the Black Nazarene – a life-size image of the “black” Jesus Christ – will cure illnesses and produce miracles.

Traslacion participants jostle through the crowds as they try to touch and kiss the Black Nazarene on Monday, July 9.

“Devotees believe being able to touch the image or have their handkerchiefs or towels touch it will bring blessings,” the CBCP said.

While the annual procession is often marred by violent scuffles, this year there were no reports of untoward incidents following heightened security measures.

Devotees fight through huge crowds to touch a centuries-old icon on Monday, January 9.

The Philippine National Red Cross treated more than 1,300 patients for mostly minor health issues, including high blood pressure and dizziness, caused largely by the arduous journey under the pounding heat in Manila – which reached nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) on Monday.

A devotee collapses during the procession to Quiapo Church along a road in Manila.

Drones were prohibited from flying overhead, devotees were discouraged from wearing backpacks while their personal belongings were searched, and cell phone signals along the route were jammed.

These increased security measures came after Philippine National Police chief Ronald Dela Rosa said ISIS-inspired terror groups in Mindanao could possibly retaliate after government troops killed the leader of terror group Ansar Al-Khilafa in an encounter in Sarangani last Thursday.

The Quiapo Church for the first time had its priests live stream the nearly day-long procession on its Facebook page.

More than 80% of the Philippines identifies as Catholic. During last year’s Traslacion, about 1.3 million devotees took part in the procession of the Black Nazarene, which lasted some 20 hours.