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Philippines: Black Nazarene draws thousands of devotees

 The Philippines' the largest religious festival yesterday drew millions of Catholics from all over the country from all walks of life to its procession to pray and pay homage to image of Jesus, popularly known as Black Nazarene. The Black Nazarene statue is said to come from Mexico, which was also a former colony of Spain and the centre of the Galleon Trade that included the Philippines. The statue, which was carved by an Aztec carpenter, was brought to Mexico by a priest. And from Mexico, it was brought to the Philippines, which is Asia's Catholic bastion, during the Spanish colonial period on May 31, 1606, by the first group of the Augustinian Recollect missionaries who landed on the shores of Manila. It was told that during the trip, there was a fire on board and the statue caught fire. So, it became black or charred. The priests first housed the statue in their church in part of what is now Rizal Park. They later transferred the image to their second church, inside Intramuros, the former walled part of Manila. Pope Innocent X in 1650 established the Confraternity of Jesus of Nazareth to encourage devotion to the Black Nazarene, an image of a kneeling Christ in a dark maroon robe, a weighty cross on his shoulders and his face a pained expression of suffering. In the 19th century, Pope Pius VII granted indulgences to those who piously pray before the image. The image was transferred from Intramuros to St John the Baptist Church in the commercial district of Quiapo in 1767. Annual processions commemorate this transfer. In 1988, the late Cardinal Jaime Sin, then archbishop of Manila, initiated the building of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in the Quiapo church. The procession of Black Nazarene in Manila started way back in the 17th century when thousands of men would parade the streets with the centuries-old, life-size black wooden statue of Jesus, knelt down under the weight of the cross. For more than 200 years, the statue has been placed on a gilded carriage every January and pulled through the streets of Quiapo by male devotees dressed in maroon. People who touch the Nazarene were reported to have been healed of diseases. Because of this, thousands of religious followers try to get close enough to touch the image and perhaps receive a miracle. They also throw towels to the people guarding the statue and ask them to rub the towel on the statue in hopes of carrying some of that power away with them. There have been recorded miracles of healing after devotees touched the statue of the Black Nazarene, or even the rope that is hoisted to move it, hence the large throng of people that converge every year. But there also have been reported deaths and injuries every year during the processions. "Whether it is faith on a living God or a statue, may these stories of great faith and miracles encourage us and make us stronger to battle the storms of life," said Anthony Regala, a parishioner. The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, who led a dawn Mass, said the celebration personifies "taking up one's crosses and trials in life in imitation of Christ." He urged all not to lose hope despite the challenges in their daily lives. Last year, police estimated 80,000 people took part in the hours-long procession. Several devotees fainted in the crush of bodies surging toward the statue.