Tight security dismays some during Philippines’ Black Nazarene procession

MANILA, Philippines — Police increased security for this year’s religious procession of Manila’s Black Nazarene.

“They’ve denied us access to God,” said one frustrated devotee who was prevented from approaching the carriage carrying the image of the suffering Jesus.

Ucanews.org reported Victor Marcelo, 27, a devotee of the Nazarene since he was 17, said policemen wearing military boots stepped on his bare feet.

Pilgrims join the annual procession of the Black Nazarene during celebrations in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 9, 2020. The wooden statue, carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippine capital early in the 17th century, is cherished by Catholics, who believe that touching it can lead to a miracle. (CNS photo/Eloisa Lopez, Reuters)

Authorities estimated that more than 2 million devotees, who all walk barefoot for the occasion, had joined the first few hours of the procession of the Black Nazarene, which usually lasts for about 20 hours. They said more than 6 million devotees were expected to participate in the religious procession, jostling each other to touch the religious image.

The wooden statue, carved in Mexico and brought to the Philippine capital early in the 17th century, is cherished by Catholics, who believe that touching it can lead to a miracle.

The carriage of the Black Nazarene left Rizal Park in Manila for a church in the city’s Quiapo district about 4 a.m., about an hour earlier than in previous years.

This year, an estimated 14,000 security personnel were deployed to secure the route to lessen what police officers described as risks of possible criminal and terrorist acts. Police barricades flanked the icon’s carriage, depriving many devotees of reaching the carriage to touch the image, a practice that has become a highlight of previous processions.

A line of police holding a rope also stood on either side of the streets where the procession passed, preventing many devotees from joining the flow of the crowd.

Imelda Francisco, who stayed up all night to await the procession, complained that the police had “hijacked” the Black Nazarene.

“Why are they preventing us from going near the Lord? God is for all of us, not only for government officials, police and priests,” said Francisco.

The tight security, however, did not prevent several devotees from going up the carriage, known as the “andas,” to touch and wipe the face of the image.

“It was my vow. I had to do it and nobody could prevent me from doing it,” said Michael Almario, a 23-year-old devotee who said he was doing it for a sick relative.