Millions of Filipino Catholics Defy Terrorist Threats

More than three million Roman Catholics processed in Manila yesterday in honor of the feast day of the Black Nazarene in spite of government warnings that Islamic militants were threatening to attack the gathering.

Ted Aljibe / AFP - Getty Images

MSNBC is reporting that the beloved annual procession drew millions of Roman Catholics to Manila on January 9 along with 15,000 police officers and sniffer dogs, while ambulances and hospitals were put on standby just in case the threats proved real.

The event took place just hours after president Benigno Auino III called a press conference along with military and police officials to issue a warning to the faithful that terrorists were threatening to attack the event.

“The sad reality of the world today is that terrorists want to disrupt the ability of people to live their lives in the ways they want to, including the freedom to worship,” Aquino said in the nationally televised briefing.

Even though the threats were credible enough to warrant a strong warning, it was not enough to cancel the daylong procession, Aquino said. He promised tight security and asked devotees not to bring cellphones or weapons and the traditional fireworks were also forbidden.

The faithful turned out in their usual record numbers for the procession which began with Mass at Rizal Park where Manila’s Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said Mass and offered prayers for the victims of tropical storms and landslides over the past year. The cross was then taken down from the stage for a three-mile procession to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.

The wooden statue of Christ who is depicted crowned with thorns and bearing a cross, is believed to have been brought to Manila from Mexico in 1606 by Spanish missionaries. The ship that carried it caught fire, but the charred remains of the statue survived and was thereafter named the “Black Nazarene.” Many believe it’s survival of countless fires, earthquakes and the intense bombings during World War II are a testament to its miraculous powers.

The faithful who attend the procession are mostly male, wear maroon shirts and walk barefoot as a sign of penance and hope to touch the statue in order to be blessed or healed.

“This was the longest and most difficult procession experienced by the devotees,” Monsignor Clemente Ignacio told radio station dzBB on Tuesday, as he praised the faith and sacrifice of millions who joined the annual festival.

The procession takes place  on January 9 and again on Good Friday every year. 

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