In Cebu, feast of faith begins in the midst of pandemic
CEBU CITY — RJ Guaca and his wife woke up early on Thursday, excited to join the dawn procession that marked the start of every Fiesta Señor celebration here.
They had been joining dawn processions, even before they got married and had a daughter six years ago. They stopped only in 2021 when Sinulog activities were halted after health protocols and mobility restrictions were imposed to stop the spread of the COVID-19.
With the return of full in-person celebration for the feast of the Holy Child Jesus, the couple from Barangay Pasil in Cebu City even dressed up their daughter Ariana as the Santo Niño.
“We are very happy to be able to take part in this solemn walk once again,” Guaca said.
But it was not just the Guaca family who was excited about joining the “Walk with Jesus” procession from Fuente Osmeña to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in downtown Cebu City, which started at 4 a.m.
Shortly before daybreak, candles brightened the length of Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City where the image of Santo Niño de Cebu was taken to a procession to start the 458th Fiesta Señor celebration.
Around 300,000 to 400,000 devotees, twice bigger than 2020’s 150,000, took part in the dawn procession and first novena Mass, according to Col. Ireneo Dalogdog, director of the Cebu City Police Office, and Harold Alcontin, operations head of the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.
The 2-kilometer prayer walk was last held in January 2020, two months before Cebu City imposed stringent health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like in previous years, devotees, young and old, carried their own images of the Santo Niño, prayed the Holy Rosary and sang liturgical hymns which were broadcast live on radio and amplified by speakers during the procession and Mass.
There were no fireworks or balloons along the procession route following an appeal from Augustinian priests in charge of the basilica to maintain the solemnity of the event and for public safety.
The flower-decked “carroza” (carriage) that carried the image of Santo Niño arrived at the basilica at 5:10 a.m. and was welcomed with shouts of “Viva Pit Señor!” and “Viva Señor Santo Niño!” as church bells pealed.
The 3,500-capacity church courtyard was packed, with thousands more spilling into the streets outside of the basilica.
They watched the Eucharistic celebration through large LED screens and television monitors installed around the church complex.
In his homily, Fr. Nelson Zerda, OSA, stressed the need for people to have faith in life’s journey.
“Life is a journey. And in this journey, let us not forget to pray. Despite the many obstacles, we should remain faithful to God,” he said.
There were times when God would test people for a purpose, he added.
“God sometimes refines and purifies us as fire tests gold—a tough love, so to speak. But in the end, these obstacles become blessings in disguise. Jesus is our ‘wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever and prince of peace,’” Zerda said.
At the end of the Mass, Zerda carried the image of the Santo Niño and led people in dancing the traditional one-step-forward, two-steps-backward Sinulog dance for about five minutes.
The basilica complex, which has been the center of the four-century-old devotion to the Santo Niño, will be open 24 hours from Jan. 5 to Jan. 15 to accommodate the multitude of devotees who will pay homage to the original image of Santo Niño which is enthroned in a glass case at a side chapel inside the basilica.
The church, however, will be closed from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. for the basilica’s cleanup. Except for Jan. 5 and Jan. 13 where there are dawn processions, at least 11 Masses, in Cebuano and English, will be celebrated a day in the basilica from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The image of the Santo Niño was given as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Hara Humamay which was later given the baptismal name, Queen Juana, in 1521.
Two other images—the Ecce Homo (a portrait of Jesus Christ) and the Madonna (Blessed Virgin Mary carrying a child)—were given to Rajah Humabon, later named Don Carlos, and the natives, respectively.
Thousands join procession to start Fiesta Señor celebration in Cebu City
LOOK: Walk With Jesus kicks off 458th Fiesta Señor
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