MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte urged Filipino Catholics on Thursday to practice the virtues of compassion and selflessness as millions join the annual procession of the Black Nazarene in the Philippine capital.
The 74-year-old leader, who has been at odds with the Catholic church due to his bloody war on drugs, said he hopes the image of the suffering Jesus Christ would serve as an inspiration for Filipinos to work for greater progress.
"As we move in procession with the image of Christ in our midst, may we all be inspired to lead our nation towards greater progress, where everyone gets an equal chance for an improved quality of life," Duterte said in his message.
"May we also learn the virtues of compassion and selflessness as we do our part in nation-building," he added.
Millions of Filipino Catholic devotees flock to Quiapo every Jan. 9 to join the annual procession of the Black Nazarene which is believed by many to be miraculous.
"For centuries, this devotion to the Nazareno, which reaches its highest expression in the annual Traslacion, continues to strengthen our faith amidst trying times," Duterte said.
"The stories of conversion and miracles surrounding this important occasion attest to the richness of our religious and cultural heritage," he said.
The Philippines, with its 100 million people, is the bastion of Roman Catholicism in Asia, with 8 in 10 people subscribing to the faith.