MANILA (UPDATE) — Throngs of barefoot devotees carried an image of a black Jesus Christ in downtown Manila on Thursday, in what is shaping up to be the fastest edition of the annual procession that is among the world's most spectacular displays of Catholic zeal, authorities said.
Police led the "Traslacion" for the first time and as of early Thursday morning the 400-year-old Black Nazarene was at Ayala Bridge in 4 hours, when last year, it reached a nearby area past noon, said Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac, spokesman of the Philippine National Police.
The Catholic faithful, waving white handkerchiefs and shouting "viva!" (long live), lined the streets of Manila from the Quirino Grandstand along Manila Bay to Quiapo Church hoping to touch or catch a glimpse of the image.
Some 2.3 million people were following the procession as of 9:27 a.m., according to the office of Manila Mayor Isko Moreno. The procession moved too fast for some, who failed to catch a glimpse of the icon.
"More than the fastest, we wanted it to be the safest," Moreno told ABS-CBN News.
The faster start to the procession was "unprecedented," Banac said in a separate interview with ABS-CBN News.
The Philippines, with its 100 million people, is the bastion of Roman Catholicism in Asia, with 8 in 10 people subscribing to the faith. The religion was brought by Spanish colonizers in the 1500s.
First brought to Manila by Augustinian priests from Mexico in 1607, the Nazarene statue is believed to have acquired its color after it was partially burnt when the galleon carrying it caught fire.
Many devotees wept with joy as the Black Nazarene left the Quirino Grandstand, said Quiapo Church vicar Fr. Douglas Badong. Some devotees, however, shoved policemen who barred them from approaching the procession head-on, ABS-CBN News footage showed.
"Ito iyong isang kultura ng pagpapahayag ng pananampalataya ng mga deboto. Sa tingin ko, hindi naman iyong maapektuhan... Hindi sukatan iyong bilis niya," said Badong.
(This is a culture of expressing faith. I think it's not affected, measured by its speed.)
Clarisa Maniego, who lost her right leg in an accident some 3 decades ago, walked from Sta. Cruz, Manila to the Quirino Grandstand to catch a glimpse of the Nazarene.
"Lahat po ng inilapit ko sa Kanya, nasasagot po. Wala pa po akong hiniling na hindi pa Niya nabigyan ng kasagutan," said Maniego, whose devotion to the Nazarene started when her son was saved from disease 18 years ago.
(Everything that I asked of him was answered. I have no wish that He did not answer.)
A 69-year-old devotee who requested to be identified only as Clarita brought her grandchildren and 2-year-old great-grandchild to the procession, but failed to see the Nazarene because it moved faster than usual.
"Hindi ako sanay na hindi namin nakikita ang Poon. Kasi biro mo ngayon, isang pito lang umaandar na, dati ilang pito pa bago umandar," said Clarita, who has been a devotee for 27 years.
(I'm not used to not seeing the Nazarene. Imagine, it moves with just one whistle today. Before, it took several whistles before it moved.)
"Ano ba ito, fiesta ng mga pulis? Eh fiesta ng Nazareno ito eh.
Dapat bigyan nila ng tsansa yung mga mamamasan," said another devotee, Allan Datinginoo.
(Is this a festival of the policemen? This is a festival of the Nazarene. They should have given a chance to the devotees.)
Janitor Victor Bilan also failed to see the Nazarene, but believed that the Nazarene would still heal his 11-year-old daughter, who fell into a coma due to diabetes complications before Christmas.
"Kahit di ko nakita, alam ng Diyos Amang Nazareno nananalig ako sa Kanya," he said.
(Even if I didn't see the carriage, Father God, the Nazarene, knows that I keep faith in Him.)
As of 10:45 a.m., 144 devotees suffered hypertension, laceration and sprain, according to the Quiapo Church Command Center.
Organizers hope the Black Nazarene can be brought back to Quiapo Church by 6 p.m., before more devotees get off work, Badong said.
"Hopefully, ito na nga ang magiging template sa mga susunod na taon," said the PNP's Banac.
(Hopefully, this will be the template in the next years.)
Moreno said there were "order and discipline" in this year's Traslacion.
"It has to be that way kasi hindi naman kailangan sarili natin ang iisipin natin... Sana isipin din natin ang bilin ni Jesus, pagmalasakitan mo ang kapwa mo kasi yun naman ay para sa kapakanan ng pangkalahatan," he said.
(We shouldn't think of ourselves alone. Let's also think of Jesus' command: empathize with your others for the sake of everyone.)
Cellphone signals jammed for the event will be restored after a security assessment, said Banac.
With reports from Lyza Aquino and Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News