Manila, Oct 23 (efe-epa).- The Manila City Council announced Friday the suspension of the popular Black Nazarene procession, one of the world’s biggest Catholic celebrations, to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is the first time the event, which attracts millions of devotees every Jan. 9, has been canceled since it was first held in the 17th century.
“Let’s avoid parades and processions while there is a pandemic. They can endanger the lives of the devotees,” Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said Friday.
Millions of Filipinos countrywide flock to Manila to follow the procession for hours – most of them barefoot for penance – which carries the venerated image of the Black Nazarene from the Quiapo Basilica, one of the most important Catholic churches in the country, with the most Catholics in Asia.
Filipinos believe the image of the Black Nazarene can work miracles. Since it arrived in the country in 1606, it has survived the fires that destroyed the Quiapo church, two earthquakes, floods and even the bombings of World War II.
The last procession, which lasted 16 hours and 35 minutes, was attended by a crowd of 3.3 million, leaving 500 injured due to intense overcrowding. People have previously died from asphyxiation.
To avoid crowds at religious events, Philippine authorities also announced the closure of all cemeteries for the celebration of All Saints’ Day, which in the Philippines lasts four days in which they flock to cemeteries to watch over their dead.
The government has also banned the celebration of Christmas parties that gather more than 10 people and has asked Philippine families to reduce their Christmas dinners to a minimum.
The working group for the prevention of COVID-19 authorized Friday the expansion of the capacity of religious meetings to 30 percent from 10 percent of these months of quarantine, a long-awaited measure in the country with the most Catholics after Mexico and Brazil.
The Philippines is among the 20 countries in the world most affected by the pandemic, with almost 364,000 infections of the new coronavirus, which have caused more than 6,700 deaths. EFE-EPA