It was a rainy and humid afternoon but it did not stop the sea of people who joined the four-hour procession along major streets of Cebu City in order to pay homage to the Sto. Niño de Cebu.
The carroza bearing the processional image of the Child Jesus was stalled for close to an hour on a stretch of Osmeña Boulevard after a gap in security cordon prompted a large crowd to go near the carriage, thus blocking the path of the procession.
Pushing and shouting momentarily disrupted the religious activity as security officers rushed into the middle of the crowd to force them to move backwards so that the carroza could pass.
But the commotion was just a brief interruption of an otherwise solemn and “generally peaceful” religious activity that marked the eve of the Feast of the Señor Sto. Nino.
Supt. Ryan Devaras, ground commander of the procession, said there were at least 500,000 who turned up for the procession that snaked through the major streets of Cebu City for four hours.
“Despite all those pushing and shoving as the procession started, no one was injured,” said Devaras, who was with a team of policemen who escorted the flower-decked carroza bearing the image of the Sto. Niño during the event.
Earlier in the day, about 40,000 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 3,000 policemen and military personnel were deployed to secure the people during the religious activities.
Today, January 21, hundreds and thousands of people again are expected to troop to the Basilica del Sto. 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.
Gesture of faith
Fr. Pacifico “Jun” Nohara Jr., rector of the centuries-old basilica, said the devotion to the Child Jesus has not dwindled even after 497 years 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.
Nohara 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 at 1:10 p.m. 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 human cordon composed of criminology interns, blue guards and college students under the National Service Training Program kept the throng of devotees at bay.
However, the carroza could hardly move when people took advantage of the absence of students who were supposed to serve as the first line of security in a stretch of Osmeña Boulevard.
Crowd control problems
Albert Maxino, one of the crowd control officers during the procession, said a group of students from a university was earlier assigned in the area where the commotion erupted.
“We were surprised why they did not come for the procession,” he told Cebu Daily News.
Maxino refused to identify the name of the university while post-assessment meetings are yet to be made.
“We have agreed that identified chokepoints must have students to keep people at bay. We were surprised why that area didn’t have any students to control the crowd,” he said.
Since some students who are supposed to be situated at a portion of Osmeña Boulevard were not around, blue guards and a private crowd control group have to step in to prevent people from converging near the carroza of the Sto. Niño.
Fr. Ric Anthony Reyes, spokesperson of the Basilica, said they are hoping to mobilize more students to help control the crowd in future processions.
“There were undeniable glitches in the crowd control. That was why several people managed to get inside what was supposed to be a cordoned area,” he said.
Devaras said people who attended the reenactment of the first Mass, baptism and wedding on Saturday morning opted not to go home and to wait instead along the streets near the Basilica to witness the foot procession in the afternoon.
The sacred walk passed through Osmeña Boulevard, General Maxilom Avenue, Imus Street, MJ Cuenco Avenue, Urdaneta Street, Street, and Burgos Street 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.
Balloons, however, continued to greet the Sto. Niño image despite the prohibition from basilica although they were not as many as in previous years.
Some of the devotees threw confetti and flower petals to the flower-decked carroza of the Sto. Niño while others set up roadside altars, where they placed household images of the Sto. Niño.
Devotees, many teary-eyed, waved their hands or uttered prayers as the Sto. Niño carroza decked with red chrysanthemums, pink anthuriums, and yellow and white orchids passed by.
Majority of those who joined the procession carried statues of the Sto. Niño, recited the Holy Rosary in English and Cebuano and sang liturgical hymns which were broadcast on radio and amplified by speakers installed along the procession route.
A few meters in front of the carroza was the Armed Forces Central Command band which played hymns in honor of the Sto. Niño.
Also joining the solemn procession were the images of St. Joseph and the Our Lady of Consolation that were ahead of the carroza of the Sto. Niño.
The carroza of the Sto. Niño returned to the basilica at 5:15 p.m. and was greeted with applause and cheers by an overflowing crowd of devotees.
Palo Archbishop John Du then celebrated Mass at the Pilgrim Center, followed by an hour of joyous dancing for a litany of prayer intentions ranging from priests, parents, politicians, the sick, the youth, sinners and the loveless.
Present during the event were Archbishop Palma, retired Bishop Antonio Rañola, and Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines or Pope Francis’ representative in the country.
Earlier yesterday, the images of the Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe sailed down the Mactan Channel during the fluvial procession.
A flotilla of 72 vessels, with about 5,000 individuals, accompanied the naval ship BRP Agta that ferried the images of the Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe to Cebu City.
The sea procession, which was supposed to start at exactly 6 a.m., was delayed for about an hour after throngs of people slowed down the motorcade that brought the images from the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City to the Nuestra Señora de Regla National Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City on Saturday dawn.
Amid the delay, Archbishop Palma was ecstatic at the huge number of people that greeted the images of the Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lapu-Lapu City.
“It only shows that Lapu-Lapu is part of the celebration. But of course, it’s not just the people of Lapu-Lapu who are happy but everyone who find meaning in this celebration,” said Palma who joined the fluvial procession on Saturday.
As early as 4 a.m., people flocked to the Mandaue-Mactan bridges, wharves and other vantage points along the sea route, a distance of four nautical miles to witness the sea procession.
Chief Supt. Robert Quenery, the new director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas, said about 35,000 to 40,000 individuals went out of their homes to watch the sea procession that started at the Naval Forces Central port yesterday.
At least two helicopters flew overhead the naval ship carrying the sacred images, while docked ships sounded their horns as the BRP Agta passed by.
It was the first time in the 38 years that the fluvial procession started in Lapu-Lapu City. The Augustinian fathers, the caretakers of the Basilica del Sto. Niño and the original image of the Child Jesus, decided to expand the annual traslacion from Mandaue City to Lapu-Lapu City upon the request of the Oponganons.
After the fluvial procession, the reenactment of the first Mass, baptism, and wedding in the Philippines was done at the Basilica’s outdoor Pilgrim Center.
Men dressed as Spanish soldiers then planted beside the altar a huge, wooden cross with a white cloth to commemorate the arrival of Magellan and his men, and the birth of Catholicism in the Philippines.
After the Mass, the reenactment of the first baptism was done. Using a wooden ladle, Nohara sprinkled holy water on a group of “natives” as well as the heads of spouses William and Anne Royles who portrayed the role of Cebu’s pre-Spanish chieftain Rajah Humabon and his wife Amihan Humahay and a group of natives. Humabon got the baptismal name Carlos while his wife was named Juana.
Priests who concelebrated the Mass also blessed with holy water the crowd of about 3,000 devotees.
In the reenactment of the first wedding, spouses Christopher and Rebecca Villaluz portrayed the roles of Don Andres de Calapata and Princess Isabel, the first couple to be wed in Christian rites in the Philippines.
After the Mass, Sinulog dances were performed by members of the Cofradia del Sto. Niño, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the late Estelita “Nang Titang” Diola’s dance group from Mabolo, and the San Diego Dance Troupe.
‘Spread the faith’
In his homily, Nohara challenged the people to spread the faith, not only by words, but also by deeds.
“As I joined the translacion and the fluvial procession, I saw a vast crowd of people who are longing for the Sto. Niño. I realize that indeed many people need God. We all need guidance, grace and inspiration,” he said.
As baptismal gifts in 1521, Magellan gave Queen Juana the image of the Sto. Niño which is now venerated in a glass case in a side chapel of the basilica.
The Portuguese navigator also gave the Ecce Homo or the bust of the suffering Jesus Christ to Carlos, and an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the natives.
The Ecce Homo is enthroned inside the basilica, while the small image of Mary has been missing since the World War II which affected several parts of Cebu City./ WITH REPORTS FROM CORRESPONDENTS JESSA MAE SOTTO, NORMAN V. MENDOZA AND BENJIE B. TALISIC