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Barefoot hordes in Philippine Catholic parade

MANILA -- Millions of barefoot devotees packed the streets of the Philippine capital Manila Thursday for one of the world's biggest Catholic parades, honoring a statue of Jesus Christ they believe has miraculous powers.

Braving the suffocating heat, pilgrims clambered over one another to touch the Black Nazarene during the ebony-hued wooden statue's slow procession from Manila's main park to a historic church.

“This has been a family tradition for years, and the Nazarene has given us many blessings over the years,” housewife Josephine Manalastas told AFP after she and her 80-year-old mother survived being trampled by the surging crowd.

Mother and daughter were taken to an ambulance nearby for treatment after a section of the crowd at the park stampeded over a steel barrier protecting the statue's carriage. Medical staff said they were uninjured.

Large numbers of police were mustered to help maintain order along the six-kilometer route, but organizers said at least 300 devotees were injured, and one person suffered a potentially fatal stroke.

Schools declared a holiday and police estimated hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had turned up by sunrise.

Hours later, church organizers said this year's crowd had outnumbered the estimated nine million who attended last year, although the number could not be independently verified.

As the procession got underway, devotees climbed on each other's shoulders to kiss the statue or wipe it with white towels and handkerchiefs.

Others fought over a pair of thick lengths of rope that the pilgrims used to pull the carriage.

In scenes reminiscent of a rock concert mosh pit, one determined woman surfed the crowd to reach the icon, only to fall back afterwards and be swallowed up by the massive sea of humanity.

For heavily pregnant housewife Kaye Morales, 32, the procession was her way of thanking God after her teenage son survived being pinned under a collapsing glass wall at a shopping mall last year.

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A sea of devotees clamber over one another to touch the Black Nazarene statue during the annual religious procession in Manila on Thursday, Jan. 9. Hundreds of thousands of barefoot devotees poured into the capital for one of the world's biggest Catholic parades honoring an ebony statue of Jesus Christ they believe has miraculous powers. (AFP)

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