Scenes from last year's procession in Manila. Pic: AP.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Filipino Catholics have begun a raucous religious procession in Manila to honor a centuries-old black statue of Jesus Christ in an annual event that organizers say was being held partly to pray for the victims of a monster typhoon that ravaged the central Philippines last year.

Officials say 6,000 policemen were deployed Thursday to secure the massive, daylong procession, a security nightmare due to the presence of Muslim extremists and widespread crimes in the country. Officials say up to 12 million devotees may join but such figures are difficult to independently confirm.

Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle urged nearly half a million devotees in a Mass to pray for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,100 people on Nov. 8.

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