A life-sized wooden statue of Jesus carrying a cross, known as the Black Nazarene, was the center of a Jan. 9 procession in Manila that gathered nine million people in the Philippines capital.
Many men and women sought to touch the centuries-old statue to show their devotion. Most went barefoot as a sign of penance and many of them prayed for employment or for miraculous healing.
Those who sought healing included Carmelita Maralit, a 64-year-old grandmother who held a lit candle as she waited for the statue to pass.
She told Agence France Presse she had attended the annual procession for 40 years
“I have high-blood pressure and I believe it helps ease my pains,” she said.
The procession lasted ten hours before the statue was returned to its home church. Despite the massive turnout, police said only 164 people sought treatment for minor injuries and ailments.
The Black Nazarene has been housed at the Quiapo Church since 1787. It was brought to Manila by a Spanish priest in 1607 on board a ship. The ship caught fire, which burned the image and darkened it.
The processions regularly draw millions of enthusiastic devotees.
Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, the parish priest of Quiapo Church, told CBCP News that the church is working to help form devotees’ faith.
“With proper formation, we hope the devotees could experience more the love of God in their lives and realize their faith in Jesus,” he said.
Some Catholic youth leaders in the Philippines hope that the young devotees will channel their enthusiasm into a more consistent faith that fosters virtues such as chastity.
Cyril Lituañas, the 30-year-old who coordinates the pastoral office of De La Salle University in Manila, told CPCP News that the growth in the numbers of young people at the event is “inspiring.”
However, he challenged young people to put their faith into practice in their life decisions, especially issues of purity in relationships.
Jan Richmond Tieng, 26, a member of the Filipino-Chinese Catholic Youth, said that devotion to the Black Nazarene “must not just end up as some yearly tradition of trying to touch the image.” Rather, it must translate into devotion to God “when it comes to what we do to our bodies.”
Such issues have come to prominence after Philippines President Benigno Aquino III last month signed into law a controversial reproductive health bill that was passed despite outcry from many of the country's Catholics.
The bill requires sex education for adults, middle school and high school students. It fully subsidizes contraception in government health insurance and requires health care workers to refer for the drugs even if they have moral and religious objections.
The Catholic Church and other opponents said the legislation would contribute to widespread family breakdown and advance sexual immorality.