Hundreds of thousands of devotees turned out in Manila on Saturday to hear mass honouring a centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ in place of the Philippines’ largest religious procession, which was cancelled due to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Black Nazarene is a wooden statue of Jesus Christ crowned with thorns and bearing a cross.

Devotees believe the statute grants prayers and wishes to the faithful.

The annual procession of the Black Nazarene in Manila is usually attended by millions.

This year, 15 masses are being held throughout the day instead.

Devotees observed physical distancing requirements as they began lining up before dawn outside the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in the district of Quiapo in Manila City.

As of noon, an estimated 400,000 people had visited the Minor Basilica, according to Brigadier General Leo Francisco, chief of the police force in Manila City.

Father Douglas Badong, parochial vicar of the Minor Basilica, urged devotees who could not go to Quiapo to listen to online masses instead or go to nearby churches.

“Even by just looking at the Nazarene on the screen, as long as you have faith, the same blessing will be bestowed upon you,” he said.

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“Whether you are physically or virtually present, or even outside the church, the Nazarene would know what’s in our hearts and why we do this sacrifice,” he added.

The statue is believed to have been brought from Mexico to Manila in 1606 by Spanish missionaries.

The ship that carried it caught fire, but the charred statue survived and was named the Black Nazarene.

The Black Nazarene was carved by an unknown Mexican from a dark wood in the 16th century in Mexico.

Pope Innocent X granted recognition to the lay Confraternity of Santo Cristo Jesús Nazareno in 1650 for the promotion of the devotion to Jesus through the icon.

It was housed in several churches near Manila in the early decades, arriving in Quiapo Church in 1787 where it has been enshrined ever since.

The icon is renowned in the Philippines and is considered by many Filipino Catholics to be miraculous; its mere touch reputed to cure disease.

It attracts homage by numerous devotees and major processions every year. (dpa/NAN)