MANILA–At least eight people were brought to government hospitals in Manila early Thursday as the procession of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ carrying the cross, crawled through streets thronged by millions of Roman Catholics.
The procession began following an early morning mass in Rizal Park, where Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urged devotees to pray for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan and the Bohol earthquake, two of several major disasters to strike the predominantly Catholic country last year.
Thousands died during those disasters and millions remain without homes as the recovery continues.
'Those who remember the Lord don't forget their fellow men,' said Cardinal Tagle in a homily delivered in the local Tagalog language.
He also called on devotees to avoid wrongdoing. 'We cannot follow Christ when our minds are preoccupied by thoughts of money or of cheating others," he said.
Even before the cardinal could finish the mass, thousands of barefoot devotees jostled to get close to the statute of the Black Nazarene, hoping to take part in transferring the wooden image to the carriage that will transport it to its final destination, Quiapo Church, in Manila's center.
The throng of people moved like a wave, as participants pushed against each other to get near the icon, which is believed to have the power to heal illnesses and grant wishes.
Those who could not ascend the carriage fought to pull on the rope tied to it or handed towels to others and asked them to wipe the statue.
Of the eight people rushed to hospital, two had suffered strokes, while others experienced chest pains, bone fractures or seizures, Dr. Eric Tayag, spokesman for the department of health, said in a statement.
The department has set up first-aid stations along the 3.7-mile procession route to handle abrasions, fainting, puncture wounds and high blood pressure. Mr. Tayag said around 350 people had consulted with health workers at those stations by mid-day.
The Philippine Red Cross has also set up dozens of stations, which have dealt mostly with high blood pressure and minor injuries.
No major injuries had been reported hours after the procession got under way, but deaths have happened during past Feasts of the Black Nazarene, the country's largest religious celebration.
The statue of Jesus was transferred to Rizal Park earlier this week in preparation for the procession, which re-enacts the transfer of the four-century-old icon from the old parish near Manila Bay to the Parish of Saint John the Baptist in Quiapo.
Police estimate that the procession could take four hours longer than the 17 hours it took last year because the route has been extended. They expect the celebration to attract more than 9 million people in a city that is home to around two million.
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