THOUSANDS of devotees will take to the streets of Panama today to celebrate the festival of "Cristo Negro," or the Black Christ – the "patron saint of criminals."
The towering statue of Christ is housed in Iglesia de San Felipe, a Roman Catholic Church in the city of Portobelo – with worshippers torturing themselves with hot wax, walking barefoot and crawling for miles in order to pay penance.
The statue is shrouded in mystery – with legend saying it was thrown overboard a ship from Spain after thunderstorms plagued the sailors' journey.
Purple-robed worshippers make a pilgrimage to the statue every year on October 21 to atone for their sins.
Devout worshippers pour burning hot wax over themselves as they ask for forgiveness at the feet of the towering wooden statue.
Hardened criminals also reportedly embark on the arduous journey to lament for their crimes, with the most repentant slithering by their bellies in the dirt tracks on their way to Iglesia de San Felipe.
The felons' worship of the statue has led to Cristo Negro being dubbed the "patron saint of criminals."
Incredibly, it is alleged that local cops even set up check-points along the way to see if they can nab a wanted criminal or two.
But while some dismiss the festivities as a (not so literal) get-out-of-jail-free-card, other worshippers join the law-breakers in crawling or walking barefoot in the dirt for over 50 miles for different reasons.
Some are hoping for help with conceiving, cures for cancer or battling addiction.
Playa Community reports of one unnamed devotee who said: "My mother had cancer, so I made a promise to the Black Christ and she recovered.
"Since then I started walking to Portobelo for this event. I start walking at 11 pm and get there at 5am.
"It is hard, because it’s a really long distance.
"October is rainy month and it is cold at night.
"When I get close, I find the strength to run up to San Felipe Church.
"When I see the Black Christ I feel extremely excited and can’t stop crying."
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