'Black Jesus' procession draws 380000 in Manila

FILE Millions of devotees are expected to participate in the annual procession of the Black Nazarene on January 9

A massive crowd of mostly barefoot Filipino Catholics has joined an annual procession of a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ under extra-tight security after the Philippines came under a disastrous pro-Islamic State group attack a year ago.

Mr Rogelio Lim said all his wishes had come true since he became a Black Nazarene devotee in 1977.

The centre of the religious celebration is at the Catholic pro-cathedral at the Quiapo district in Manila where another one million faithful in this predominantly Catholic nation of 100 million Filipinos waited for the "translacion" (procession) which is projected to end from the Rizal Park about a kilometre away at dawn on Wednesday. "There will always be a need for someone, and that is exactly Jesus".

Security, provided by about 10,000 policemen and soldiers, was tight throughout the procession route, including the decision to ban mobile phone services in the Quiapo area for the procession. Officials had warned that extremists could attempt to avenge the death of Islamist militant leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, who was killed by police last week.

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Snipers and bomb squads backed by a surveillance helicopter and drones, were all used to ensure the annual procession passed off safely.

Processions and other religious rites were also held elsewhere in the country of 105 million people to celebrate the feast.

Devotees pulled on stout ropes to move the carriage forward as the procession drew more than half a million people wearing maroon and yellow shirts and waving towels while chanting "Viva" ("Long live"), Manila police said.

The Philippine Red Cross said it had assisted more than 600 people who were feeling unwell, or suffered injuries as many clamoured to reach the icon.

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