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1.5M devotees join prayer walk on eve of Cebu Santo Niño feast

Santo Niño de Cebu devotees on streets of Cebu City

Devotees of the Señor Santo Niño raised their hands in prayer, many holding small images of the Child Jesus, as the carroza carrying the Santo. Niño pass through the junction of Colon Street and Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City during the afternoon solemn procession on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, the eve of Fiesta Señor. (Photo by TONEE DESPOJO / Cebu Daily News)

CEBU CITY — Under overcast skies, at least a million devotees lined the streets of Cebu City or joined the solemn procession traditionally held on Saturday, the eve of the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebu.

Senior Supt. Royina Garma, director of the Cebu City Police Office, said there were at least 1.5 million people who turned up for the prayer walk that snaked through the major streets of Cebu City for four hours.

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The number is three times higher than last year’s crowd of 500,000.

“All along, we were expecting more people to attend the religious activities this year. Since day one of the novena, we already noticed a thick crowd at the basilica,” Garma said.

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Earlier in the day, several people also waited along the piers and shorelines in the cities of Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Cebu to take a glimpse of the fluvial procession — one of the highlights of the Fiesta Señor.

A total of 6,000 policemen and military personnel were deployed to secure the people during the religious activities.

Masses, grand parade and dance competition

On Sunday, Jan. 20, thousands of people again are expected to troop to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to celebrate the feast of the Child Jesus.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma will preside over a pontifical Mass at 6 a.m. to be followed by eight other Masses at the Basilica’s Pilgrim Center.

Side by side with the church-led activities is the Sinulog grand parade and dance competition, which is expected to draw at least a million people.

For this year’s Sinulog, there will only be 24 contingents, both from Cebu and other provinces, who will be competing in the Sinulog Festival.

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A guest contingent from the Wonju Dynamic Dancing Carnival based in Wonju, South Korea is also expected to join the festival.

With only fewer contingents competing this year, Sinulog 2019 organizers are not only hoping for a peaceful and orderly street parade but for the event to end on time as well.

The Grand Parade this year will start at 9 a.m. along Imus Avenue and will end at around 6 p.m. at the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC) where the announcement of winners and a musical-fireworks display will also be held.

Last year’s festival had 30 competing contingents.

No alcoholic beverages on carousel route

Drinking of alcoholic beverages along the Sinulog carousel route will be prohibited from 6 a.m. of Sunday until 6 a.m. of Monday.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña said anyone caught violating his directive would immediately be detained in temporary detention cells that the police would set up along the 6-kilometer route.

“This will be the strictest Sinulog ever because there is a risk and because the trend shows that it is going to get worse,” Osmeña said.

He said establishments located within the 300-meter radius from the grand parade route that would be caught violating his directive would be closed.

‘A gesture of faith we all cherish’

Fr. Pacifico “Jun” Nohara Jr., rector of the centuries-old basilica, said the devotion to the Child Jesus has not dwindled even after centuries that the image of the Sto. Niño was given as baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Queen Juana.

“Our devotion to the Holy Child received a long time ago is a gesture of faith that we all cherish. And year after year, our celebration in honor of Señor Sto. Niño, our traditional Sinulog dances, our processions, our rituals and ceremonies, should make us grow in faith and love as well as make us witnesses of the Gospel and participants in the Church’s mission,” he said.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma carried the processional image of the Sto. Niño to the carroza to mark the start of the solemn procession.

Bells at the centuries-old church pealed as the carroza or carriage that bore the image of the Sto. Niño, escorted by priests, emerged from the Basilica’s courtyard at 1 p.m.

Devotees repeatedly shouted “Pit Senyor” and waved their hands up in the air when the ancient hymn for the Sto. Niño, “Batobalani sa Gugma,” was sung.

Another image of the Sto. Niño from San Nicolas Parish known as El Teniente dela Guardia was stationed in a carroza in front of the basilica during the procession. Traditionally, it guards the church while the Sto. Niño de Cebu is brought out for the procession.

A cordon of police officers, criminology interns, security guards and college students under the National Service Training Program kept the throng of devotees at bay.

The procession passed by P. Burgos Street, Urdaneta Street, M.J. Cuenco Avenue, Imus Street, General Maxilom Avenue, Osmeña Boulevard, before returning to the basilica.

There were no fireworks along the procession route following an appeal from the Augustinian priests in charge of the basilica to maintain the solemnity of the event and for public safety.

Though prohibited by the basilica, balloons continued, however, to greet the Santo Niño image.  /atm

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