More than 3 million Roman Catholic worshippers paraded with a charred Christ statue through the Philippine capital in an annual procession Monday despite a warning from the president that terrorists might target the gathering.
The black wooden statue known as the Black Nazarenewas displayed at the seaside Rizal Park where Manila’s Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle led a Mass and offered prayers for victims of tropical storms and landslides over the past year.
Organizers then brought the statue — believed to have healing powers — down from the stage for its three-mile (five-kilometer) procession to a popular church as devotees rushed forward to touch it. Police estimated that more than 3 million people had joined the procession; up to 9 million were expected.
President Benigno Aquino III warned Sunday at a hastily called news conference, along with military and police officials, that several terrorists planned to disrupt the event and had reportedly been seen in the capital. But the threat was not high enough to cancel the procession and police were working hard to thwart any attack, he said.
“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 conference.
The government banned cell phones and firecrackers at the event. Around 15,000 policemen were deployed with sniffer dogs, while ambulances and hospitals were on standby, according to an entry in Aquino’s Facebook page.
Australia urged its citizens to avoid the procession and nearby areas.