NENITA Domencillo was hearing Mass inside the Basilica del Sto Niño when the walls started to shake at 8 a.m. yesterday.
A few seconds later, the bell tower at the right side of the church collapsed, filling the church’s main entrance with debris. Security guards rushed to lead 50 people out to safety.
A passing motorist was bruised after he was hit by falling debris. Shortly after a man pulled him off his motorcycle, a large slab from the bell tower fell on the vehicle.
“But we are still lucky that it’s a holiday and not so many people were inside the church. In life, people have to experience calamities for us to be reminded of our faith. This is just a wake up call, a reminder that we need him (the Sto. Niño),” said parish rector Fr. Jonas Mejares.
Several other Cebu churches were damaged during the earthquake. Cracks were found on the façade and bell tower of the adjacent Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.
Damage was also reported on Spanish-era churches in Dumanjug town, Carcar City and Boljoon town all in southern Cebu.
In Cebu City, cracks were seen at the Lourdes Parish church in barangay Punta Princesa, Holy Cross church in Basak Pardo, and the Pardo church.
Mejares asked for help in clearing the basilica grounds and a portion of Osmeña Boulevard of debris.
“The church will have to be closed until such time that this is inspected and its structural integrity assessed,” he said.
Basilica Masses resumed at 5:30 p.m. yesterday in the outdoor pilgrim center.
Pilgrim center gates along P. Burgos St. and Osmeña Boulevard were opened to accommodate churchgoers.
The bell tower and church facade were due for renovation after cracks were caused by the magnitude 6 earthquake which hit Cebu in February last year.
Mejares said the collapsed bell tower was already the fourth bell tower built for the basilica since 1740.
The bell tower serves as a counterbalance to the convent located on the opposite far end of the church.
The bell tower has two blind and open windows alternating in shape and forms a triangular pinnacle with a circular disc crowned by balusters and a bulbous dome of Muslim influence.
“Definitely we will have to restore the bell tower. But how we will do that, we still don’t know at his time,” Mejares said.
Local tour guide and heritage advocate Ka Bino Guerrero said the Sto. Niño bell tower is made of coral stones from Capiz and Panay Islands and were compacted using “argamasa” or a mixture of aggregates, egg white and rubble. “
Its concrete pinnacle was barely damaged and could still be used. The basilica is a well-visited tourist spot.
“People including the Koreans come to Cebu and come to the Basilica to appreciate the church which has also become the anchor of our faith and the cradle of Christianity,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the earthquake is a wake up call for all Cebuanos and the faithful to help restore and preserve churches as part of national heritage.
The basilica is the first church and monastery established in the country after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed in Cebu in 1565 and one of his men found a wooden statue of the Sto. Niño.
Originally called as San Agustin Church, Pope Paul VI elevated it to a Basilica Minore in 1965 in honor of the Santo Niño de Cebu.
Churches in Carcar City, Argao, Boljoon, Dalaguete, Sibonga, and in Pardo, Cebu City also sustained quake damage, said Fr. Brian Brigoli..
Step by step
Mejares, the rector, said Masses will continue in the outdoor pilgrim center.
“We have requested structural engineers to assess and determine the extent of the damage. We will defintely restore what was destroyed but we have to do it step by step,” he said.
Outgoing Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu Julito Cortes went to the basilica and the cathedral to check the damages in behalf of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma who is attending a convention in Cavite yesterday.
Cortes encouraged the faithful to pray. “We should pray that there will be no further damages because a lot of damage has already taken place,” he told reporters. /Doris C. Bongcac and Ador Vincent Mayol