Sinulog, Ati-atihan go digital amid pandemic
CEBU CITY –– Two prominent festivals in the Visayas were called off this year due to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
This, however, didn’t stop devotees in Cebu and Kalibo, Aklan from honoring the Sto. Niño or the Holy Child Jesus, whose feast is celebrated every third Sunday of January.
In Cebu, a collection of videos of past Sinulog performances, including those taken in the 1980s, were shown in a virtual program made instead of the actual dance presentations, which were canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The 10-hour virtual program highlighted the “halad” performance of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, as well as the best of Cebuano’s musical talents, fashion, and other performing arts.
Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama, who was tasked by the mayor to lead the preparations for the Sinulog 2021, expressed hope that this year’s Sinulog would help educate the younger generation about the Sinulog Festival’s rich history.
The virtual program began with a Holy Mass at 9 a.m. at the Fort San Pedro, with only about 20 people allowed to physically attend the Eucharistic celebration.
The program ended at 7 p.m. with a video of the fireworks displays from the previous years.
At the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in downtown Cebu City, Archbishop Jose Palma presided over the 6 a.m. Pontifical Mass for the feast of the Child Jesus.
Except for about 20 priests and volunteers, the Mass was off-limits to the public after the Augustinian fathers of the centuries-old church decided to cancel in-person Masses to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
In his homily, Palma consoled devotees, who were not allowed to attend Masses at the basilica, saying the Santo Niño remains in the hearts of people and waits for those who want to communicate with Him through prayer.
“The Santo Niño is in our hearts. He is waiting for us in prayer. Whatever problem we have, we just have come to Him. He will bring us to the Father,” he said.
The 70-year-old, who was discharged from the hospital on Saturday after having a cough and cold, encouraged people not to lose hope amid the pandemic.
“Many times, we only have fear. But He tells us, have faith. Put your trust in this little child,” he said.
In an interview, Governor Garcia said her dance presentation served as her “halad” or offering to the Holy Child Jesus for giving her many blessings, including the dismissal of the two controversial cases filed against her.
“I feel that it is my moral duty to still give homage to the Sto. Niño who has blessed the province so much,” Garcia said.
“On a personal note, He too has blessed me so much, protecting me against all false charges and accusations, vindicating my name and my family’s name,” she added.
In 2020, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the charges filed against Garcia and seven others, who were involved in the controversial purchase of the P98.9-million Balili property in the City of Naga, south Cebu.
In early January, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the criminal charges filed against the governor and 11 others over the construction of the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) in 2006. Garcia had been participating in Sinulog Festivals for 10 years.
The city government earlier canceled the Sinulog Festival, one of the largest and grandest festivals in the country, for the first time in its 41-year history to slow down the spread of the virus.
Public Masses in celebration of the Feast of the Holy Child Jesus at the basilica were also canceled as a precaution against COVID-19.
Both the Sinulog and Fiesta Señor celebrations gather millions of people every year.
In Aklan, the Kalibo Ati-atihan Festival was also canceled due to the pandemic.
Devoid of the famed “sadsad” (street-dancing), parades, and other jampacked events, devotees focused on the profession of faith amid the pandemic.
The Kalibo Ati-atihan, held annually every third week of January, is considered the oldest among the festivals in honor of the Santo Niño.
It is known for its unique and spontaneous sadsad, participated in by residents and guests to the beat of drums and the melodic tune of lyres.
This year, most of the activities were held online and instead of the Ati tribe street-dancing contest, a 54-minute video presentation that included performances in past festivals was streamed on social media.
Kalibo Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc called on Santo Niño devotees to remember and emulate the child-like qualities of the Santo Niño “as symbols of Christian attitude before God and before others.”
“A child is simple, very trusting, and transparent. A child can easily forget bad things that happen even just yesterday. A child knows how to start all over again,” Tala-oc said in his homily during the Pilgrim Mass at the St. John the Baptist Cathedral in the capital town of Kalibo on Sunday.
The Mass, the highlight of the centuries-old festival, was held inside the cathedral instead of outside as in previous years.
Tala-oc said the pandemic “produced upheavals” not only in economic and social life, “but especially so in the life of the Christian community including our liturgical life.”
“Jesus said, where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m in their midst,” Tala-oc said.
But he said even if the faithful could not physically attend Mass, they could still profess their faith.
“Don’t worry, be confident, my dear brothers and sisters. Even if you are in front of your radio and television (sets), we are together, you belong to one or three gathered in Jesus’ name. He is in our midst,” the prelate said.
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