Under cloudy skies, 2.7 million people yesterday took part in the five-hour solemn foot procession of the Sto. Niño de Cebu.
It ended with evening Mass for an overflowing crowd at the Pilgrim Center and one hour of joyous sinulog dancing by people from all walks of life shouting “Pit Señor!” for a litany of prayer intentions ranging from parents and politicians to the sick and loveless.
Devotees walked behind the flower-decked carroza (carriage) of the Sto. Niño while others waited for hours by the roadside for the image to pass by.
Senior Supt. Mariano Natuel, acting Cebu City police chief, said the crowds reached 2.7 million, or an increase from last year’s attendance of 2 million.
The solemn procession from the Basilica del Sto. Niño started at 1:30 p.m. and passed through a 5.8-kilometer route through major streets in Cebu City up to Fuente Osmeña and Plaza Independencia.
When the carroza returned to the basilica at 6 p.m. the skies opened with a brief rain shower.
This year’s procession revived a Spanish-period tradition blending military honors and recognition for San Nicolas parish, the oldest setttlement of the Agustinian order in Cebu.
Two carrozas carrying Sto. Niño images took part in in a ceremonial turnover of “sentinel duties” at the basilica.
The image of the Holy Child of San Nicolas parish, known as El Teniente dela Guardia, entered the gate escorted by Philippine Navy personnel in white uniforms, to take its place by the outdoor altar.
The officer of the teniente said, “I relieve you sir.”
In response, the officer of the basilica’s Sto. Nino, referred to in oral tradition as El Capitan General, said “I stand relieved.”
After an exchange of flags, the carroza of the basilica’s Sto. Niño image , set out for the procession.
Earlier, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and basilica rector Fr. Jonas Mejares OSA, both carried the replica of the basilica’s Sto. Niño from its altar to its carroza waiting outside the church, accompanied by a Navy honor guard doing a slow march.
Bells pealed as the basilica’s carroza went out of the church past 1 p.m.
Throngs of people waved their hands cheered “Pit Señor” as the carroza of the Child Jesus passed by.
While passing through downtown, confetti was thrown at the carroza decked with red and white anthuriums, and yellow orchids.
Some devotees set up roadside altars where they placed household images of the Sto. Niño.
Skywalks on the route ere filled with people who came to catch a glimpse of the procession.
A human cordon composed of student cadets who linked arms with blue guards, criminology interns, and Navy personnel, kept the throng of devotees at bay. .
Aside from the Sto. Niño, the image of the St. Joseph and Our Lady of Consolation was also brought out for the procession.
Rain fell when the carroza bearing the image of the Sto. Niño was near Plaza Independencia, a few meters away from the basilica. People applauded and called the passing shower a “blessing.”
The bells at the basilica pealed while devotees on at the jampacked pilgrim center sang the Bato-Balani sa Gugma and cheered “Viva, Pit Señor!”
Before and after the procession, a ceremonial turnover at the basilica was held in accordance with Spanish tradition.
The rector symbolically handed over authority over the basilica to Msgr. Trinidad Silva, parish priest of San Nicolas church by exchanging flags.
During the rites, a female Navy officer announced “El Teniente de la Guardia parating” (The lieutenant of the guard is arriving), as a military band played “Bato Balani.”
The brief program shortly past 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and its historical significance was announced over the public address system by Dr. Joy Gerra, executive director of the heritage program of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.
At dusk, the two carrozas of the Sto. Niño faced each other again in front of the basilica to trade places.
Today, Archbishop Palma will preside over a 6 a.m. pontifical Mass at the Pilgrim Center for the official feast day of the Sto. Niño. /With Eileen Mangubat