‘Show of faith’ as Cebu opens Sto. Niño feast amid pandemic
CEBU CITY — The stringent health protocols did not stop throngs of Sto. Niño devotees from lining up outside the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño compound in this city as early as 2 a.m. on Friday, four hours before the first Mass that marked the start of the 456th Fiesta Señor celebration.
Wearing face masks and shields, they were ushered to chairs arranged a meter away from each other to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Only those with quarantine passes were allowed to enter the basilica’s outdoor Pilgrim Center where the Mass was held, said Police Col. Josefino Ligan, director of the Cebu City police, who deployed some 500 policemen to ensure that health protocols were followed.
Only 1,500 people were permitted in the Pilgrim Center to ensure physical distancing.
Those who failed to make it inside the churchyard stayed on the streets surrounding the basilica and watched the Mass through large LED screens and television monitors installed around the church complex.
The scene was a departure from previous years’ celebrations when thousands of devotees, from Cebu and other parts of country and abroad, would pack the Pilgrim Center for the opening mass and succeeding religious celebrations that would culminate on the third Sunday of January, the feast day of the Child Jesus.
At 5:30 a.m., the image of the Child Jesus was enthroned at the basilica’s Pilgrim Center as church bells pealed.
Devotees, many of whom carried their own Sto. Niño images, waved their hands in the air in unison as they sang “Bato-Balani sa Gugma” (Magnet of love), an ancient hymn in honor of the Holy Child.
In his homily, basilica rector Fr. Pacifico Nohara Jr. said he was awed by the huge turnout of devotees even amid the pandemic.
“This pandemic has changed the world. Many fear contracting the virus. Despite all these, we still gather here to manifest our faith. No one, not even the virus, can stop us from showing our love to the Sto. Niño,” he said.
This year, the country is celebrating 500 years of Christianity, which began in Cebu alongside with the arrival on this shores of the image of the Sto. Niño.
The original Sto. Niño statue, which was given as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s queen, Hara Humamay, in 1521, is venerated and kept in a glass case at a side chapel inside the basilica.
Two other icons—the “Ecce Homo” (a bust image of the suffering Jesus Christ) and the Madonna (Blessed Virgin Mary carrying a child) — were given to local chieftain Rajah Humabon and the natives.
“This must be a good year because we celebrate the 500th year since the arrival of the Sto. Niño. We should be grateful because we are blessed by the Father in our journey of faith,” Nohara said. —REPORTS FROM ADOR VINCENT MAYOL AND NESTLE SEMILLA
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