They walked the 3.7 mile route barefoot, behind a statue of Jesus.
An estimated six million Catholics walked barefoot today in the Philippine capital of Manila on the occasion of the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene.
As they do each year, the worshipers followed a life-sized statue of Jesus Christ carrying a cross on the way to his Crucifixion. The “Black Nazarene” statue was carved by an anonymous Mexican sculptor in the 16th century, and taken to the Philippines in 1606 by a group of missionaries. Pope Innocent X approved its veneration in 1650 and authorized the establishment of the Confraternity of the Most Holy Jesus Nazarene.
The statue is enshrined in the Quiapo Church in the Archdiocese of Manila, and, according to Catholic News Agency, has survived fires that destroyed the church twice, two earthquakes and numerous typhoons, and bombings during World War II. Many miracles have been attributed to the statue.
The procession is called the “Traslacion,” and refers to the transfer of the Image of the Black Nazarene.
Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, the rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, told CNA that the procession is a way for Catholics in the Philippines to deepen their faith.
“In a way it is imitating the Calvary experience: the sacrifice and suffering that our Lord endured for our salvation like when Jesus was walking barefoot, carrying the cross to Mount Calvary,” he said.
“The devotees also want to give back to God by participating in the suffering of our Lord and entering into the Paschal mystery of Christ,” said Msgr. Ignacio.
The procession is not without controversy. Barefoot participants climb over each other in an attempt to touch the statue, which some believe has healing powers, resulting in many injuries and even deaths over the years.
This year Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila urged pilgrims at a midnight Mass held before the procession not to become “fanatics.”
“A fanatic does not love,” the cardinal said. “Fanatics hold on to who gives importance to them. But a devotee … is devoted because of love, and that is what Jesus showed us.”
“Devotion is a daily act…. In every kind of love, loyalty, and union, it must be daily,” he said, according to UCA News.