By Ben Cal
MANILA, Jan. 9 - Despite warnings by authorities of possible terror attacks, millions of barefooted devotees filled the streets of Manila for the 405th celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene that started with a procession from Quirino Grandstand to the Minor Basilica of Quiapo at about 8 this morning.
The procession is moving at snails pace because of the huge number of people trying to touch the Black Nazarene image said to have miraculous healing power.
Those who cannot reach threw their handkerchiefs or towels to marshals on board the carriage where the Black Nazarene image is being transported wiped them on the image and threw them back.
As of 3 p.m. the image was still near the National Museum,which was only about a kilometer from the Quirino Grandstand where the procession originated. The slow moving procession has been the hallmark tradition for years.
The statue is expected to arrive the the Quiapo Church at midnight Monday.
No less than President Benigno S. Aquino III issued the warning of a possible attack to be launched by terror group to mar the celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
But the millions of faithful virtually ignored the warning by attending the Black Nazarene procession as their way of asking God to heal them of their illnesses.
Many have testified that they have been healed after praying to God by attending novenas of the Black Nazarene.
The Minor Basilica of Quiapo said that the statue of the Nazarene arrived in Manila from Mexico in 1607. During the voyage, the ship caught fire but miraculously, the statue was not burned but its color turned black.
From that time on, the image was named the Black Nazarene.
During the great fires that hit the Church of Quiapo in 1791 and 1929, and the destructive earthquakes of 1645 and 1863, the Black Nazarene statue again survived unscathed.
Even during the bombing of Manila towards the end of World War II, the Black Nazarene was not damaged, prompting the faithful and church authorities to believe the statue is miraculous.
Director General Nicanor Bartolome, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said that as of 4 p.m. today, no major untoward incident had happened, except some people who fainted because of the heat.
Bartolome has placed the entire 15,000-strong police force in Metro Manila under full alert for todays religious festivity.
Bartolome directed National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief, Director Alan Purisima to field all available mobile and foot patrol units around the Quiapo area and along the procession routes from the Quirino Grandstand to the Quiapo Basilica.
Explosion of firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices have been banned.
Unruly persons and those under the influence of drugs and alcohol will immediately be evicted from the activity.
The chief PNP has mobilized the PNP Health Service to field its paramedic and emergency medical teams to assist distressed devotees who may suffer from heat stroke, exhaustion, cuts, bruises, sprains, breathing discomfort, and other injuries associated with heavily crowded environment.
K-9 units from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine Coast Guard augmented the security of the police. (PNA) RMA/RBC/mec