Over five million Catholics joined one of the world’s biggest annual religious gatherings in the Philippines amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s heightened attacks on the Catholic Church.
In one of the biggest annual security challenges in Asia’s most Catholic nation, Philippine police was placed on high alert to secure massive crowds joining yesterday’s Feast of the Black Nazarene procession that features a black image of Jesus carrying a cross.
Classes and work have been suspended in the capital, Manila, and flights have been banned over the parade route, police said. Mobile phone signals were be jammed throughout the procession, which began about 5 a.m. local time.
“We have not received any reports of threats to the procession, but members of our intelligence community are continuously monitoring any possibility,” police chief Oscar Albayalde said at a televised briefing Monday.
The religious feast is being held as Duterte steps up his criticisms of Catholic priests and teachings. The President, who last June called God “stupid,” recently questioned Christian tenets on Jesus’ crucifixion and the Holy Trinity, while telling Church leaders not to meddle with his government.
In response, Monsignor Hernando Coronel, the priest leading preparations for the Black Nazarene procession, urged the public to pray for Duterte. Catholic bishops from the predominantly Catholic nation also earlier told Duterte to respect Church teachings, and called on Filipinos to keep their faith.
Duterte’s popularity was sapped by inflation that hit a nine-year high but has since recovered after consumer prices eased for the past two months. He’s also dealing with economic growth that is running below his government’s target of at least 7 percent in 2018. Bloomberg