Relief from natural disasters was the main prayer of hundreds of thousands of people, who shed their footwear on Saturday in a religious procession across the capital of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines.
- The annual festival centres on a black icon of a cross-bearing Jesus Christ
- Filipino Roman Catholic devotees view the ’Black Nazarene’
- VIDEO: Thousands join procession of the Black Nazarene in Manila. Duration: 00:57
The annual festival centres on a black icon of a cross-bearing Jesus Christ, which many Filipinos believe can perform miracles to cure the sick, drive away bad luck and bring prosperity.
Advertisement"They look like giant waves," Senior Inspector Oscar Hoguera, head of Manila's mobile police division, said of the sea of humanity swarming around the carriage being pulled by bare-foot devotees holding lengths of stout rope.
The devotees wore scarlet shirts and hurled white handkerchiefs and towels at an ebony-hued wooden statue of the "Black Nazarene", which volunteers touched onto its cheeks before throwing back the cloths to the crowd.
"There are a lot more participants today than last year," Holguera told AFP, estimating the size of the crowd at several hundred thousand people.
"Many people are turning to religion after a year of disasters," he added.
Tropical storms, floods, landslides, and maritime disasters killed nearly 2,000 people across the Philippines in 2009, a year in which an election-linked massacre claimed 57 lives and a volcano also erupted.
More than 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic and Holguera estimated that at least two million people in this city of more than 10 million had joined or watched the procession.
"I'm praying for good health and good luck," said 58-year-old Ricardo Palacio, a Manila porter who said his wife left him and their four children several years ago.
"He cured my illness and enabled me to walk again," said 78-year-old grandmother Maria Medalla, who told AFP she left her home near the erupting Mayon volcano southeast of Manila last week so she could join this year's procession.
The local branch of the Red Cross said it had treated 75 participants by late morning, mostly for symptoms of high blood pressure and one with a head injury.
The city government said it deployed more than a thousand policemen to maintain order and redirect traffic.
The life-sized wooden sculpture of a black Jesus bearing a cross is said to have been carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippines by Augustinian missionaries in the early 17th century during Spain's galleon trade.