NO FIREWORKS, MORE PRAYERS
Alone on her wheelchair, 56-year-old candle vendor Wilma Estenzo, slowly rolled herself down Osmeña Boulevard to join yesterday’s dawn procession in Cebu City.
She lost her right leg in a road accident 13 years ago.
“I don’t mind coming here alone. This is my offering to the child Jesus,” she said in Cebuano.
Her husband was sick and nobody could help her move around.
These drawbacks however, did not stop Estenzo of barangay Tejero from fulfilling a pledge to join devotees in the annual “Walk with Jesus” that kicks off the nine-day novena for the feast of the Sto. Niño in Cebu City.
“This is my second life. I owe it to the Sto. Niño,” said the newspaper and candle vendor, said in Cebuano.
Police estimated the crowd who gathered at Fuente Osmeña rotunda at 4 a.m. at around 70,000.
The Cebu City Command and Control Center (C-3) placed the number at 58,000. The numbers far exceeded last year’s 45,000 participants.
There were no fireworks or balloons at the procession following earlier appeals by Augustinian priests in charge of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño to maintain the solemnity of the event and public safety.
People recited the rosary and sang religious hymns which were broadcast live on radio and amplified by speakers as the replica image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu was taken on a two-kilometer foot procession from Fuente Osmeña to the basilica.
Devotees held lighted candles and carried home images of the Sto. Niño.
Many others lined the boulevard with heads bowed in prayer as the flower-decked carriage bearing the statue of the Hold Child passed by.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who joins the procession every year, joined the prayer walk as he coordinated with organizers for the smooth flow of the procession.
The Sto. Niño carroza arrived at the basilica at 5:35 a.m. and was welcomed with applause amid shouts of “Pit Señor!” and “Viva Señor Sto. Niño!
The 3,5000-capacity church courtyard was packed full. People spilled out of the adjoining streets who followed the proceedings via giant television screens put up outside the basilica.
An audio recording of the pealing of bells signalled the start of the novena.
The basilica’s bell tower which collapsed during the October 2013 earthquake still needs to be reconstructed.
‘Think of others’
In his homily, Fr. Jonas Mejares, rector of the basilica, urged the people to keep “dreaming and hoping” not just for themselves but also for others, especially the poor.
This year’s Fiesta Señor celebration carries the same theme as last year: Sto. Nino: Hope of the People.”
“It is normal for people to dream for something. But let us examine ourselves what are the reasons why we want this or that. Let us be like Jesus who longs and prays for the good of others,” he said in Cebuano. Mejares encouraged devotees to forego materialism and secularism which the world continues to offer.
“Power and wealth are good servants. But they are bad masters. True joy only comes from having a good relationship with the Lord. And the Sto. Niño is the hope of all people,” he said.
Mejares ended his homily by singing the Broadway classic “The Impossible Dream”.
He later told reporters that he was overwhelmed at the size of the crowd.
“The first activity for the Fiesta Señor 2015 was successful. We were given good weather. But as proven in the previous years, rain or shine—nothing can stop the people from expressing their love for the Lord,” he said.
The fiesta’s Hermano and Hermana Mayores for 2015 – Doctors Jose Enrique and Jill De Las Peñas – were presented to the people. The couple owns the Delos Reyes Optical which has been operating in Cebu for 65 years.
During the offertory, people waved their hands in the air in unison as they sang “Bato-Balani sa Gugma,” a traditional Cebuano hymn for the Sto. Niño.
Daily novena massess will continue at the Pilgrim Center of the Sto. Niño Basilica until next Friday.
On Saturday, Jan. 17, the Sto. Niño solemn foot procession down major streets of Cebu City is expected to draw over a million people
The basilica, which has been the center of the four-century-old devotion to the Sto. Niño, will be open 24 hours a day until Jan. 18, Sunday.
This has to be done to accommodate the throngs of devotees who come to venerate the original image of the Sto. Niño which is enthroned in a glass case at a side chapel in the basilica.
On Jan. 16, Friday, another prayer walk from Fuente Osmeña to the basilica will be held for the “Walk with Mary.”
The Misa de Traslacion will be held at 7 a.m. that day. Pilgrim images of the Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu will be brought to the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City in a motorcade.
The motorcade will traverse M.J. Cuenco Avenue and proceed to the Cebu North Road in Mandaue City.
After an overnight vigil at St. Joseph’s Shrine, a 4 a.m. send off Mass which will be followed by a foot procession to the Ouano Wharf in Mandaue City for the fluvial procession.
The vessel carrying the icons will reach Ouano Wharf by 6 .am. From there, a sea voyage down the Mactan Channel to Pier 1 in Cebu City shall bring the images back to the basilica.
Coast Guard Cebu station commander Rodolfo Villajuan said they are accepting registration of vessels that will participate.
Boat owners have to register first at Maritime Industry Authority before going to the Philippine Coast Guard at Pier 3, he said.
The fluvial procession is scheduled to reach Pier 1 by 7 a.m. It will be followed by a procession to the basilica where the reenactment of the planting of the cross, first Mass and baptism will be held.
As in previous years, the Sandiego Dance Company committed to dance the sinulog at the Pilgrim Center before their group will travel to Manila to lead millions of people in dancing the Sinulog at the start of the papal Mass at Manila’s Rizal Park (Luneta) on Jan. 18.
At 1 p.m. on Jan. 17, the solemn foot procession of the Sto. Niño will be held along major streets in the city.
A new route will be used this year. Carrozas of St. Joseph, Our Lady of Consolation and the Sto. Niño de Cebu will pass along Osmeña Boulevard to Fuente Osmeña, down General Maxilom Avenue (Mango), Imus Street, M.J. Cuenco Avenue, Plaza Independencia then back to the basilica.