80T devotees join annual ‘Walk With Jesus’ procession and first novena Mass in honor of Sto. Niño
CEBU CITY– Shortly before daybreak, a sea of candlelight illumined the length of Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City where the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu was brought in a procession to mark the start of the 453rd Fiesta Señor celebration.
Devotees—young and old—carried their own images of the Sto. Niño, prayed the holy rosary, and sang liturgical hymns which were broadcast live on radio and amplified by speakers during the “Walk with Jesus” procession and the first novena Mass early morning on Thursday.
The two-kilometer prayer walk opens this year’s activities in honor of the Child Jesus.
There were no fireworks or balloons 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.
Both Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas; and the Cebu City Command and Control Center said at least 80,000 devotees, or twice bigger than last year’s 40,000, took part in the opening salvo and first novena Mass.
Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, deputy mayor on police matters said they computed the crowd size with a density of four persons per square meter.
“The procession and first Mass was very peaceful. We thank everyone who secured the devotees,” he said in an interview.
The flower-decked carroza that carried the image of the Sto. Niño arrived at the basilica at 5:19 a.m. and was welcomed with shouts of “Viva Pit Señor!” and “Viva Señor Sto. Niño” as the 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. Pacifico “Jun” Nohara Jr., the rector of the basilica, said the dawn procession was not a mere form of exercise to lose weight but a “sacrificial manifestation of our faith.”
“How blessed we are that the original image of the Sto. Niño—one of the oldest religious icons in the country—is here with us. God, through this image, hears our prayers, grants our heart’s desires, gives us hope, and preserves as through the year,” he said.
The image of the Sto. Niño was given as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Hara Humamay in 1521.
Two other images—the Ecce Homo and the Madonna (Blessed Virgin Mary carrying a child)—were given to Rajah Humabon and the natives. Evangelize Nohara called on the people to live out their faith and to evangelize through words and deeds.
“No matter what we are in life, no matter what we were in the past, let us choose healing and the path of righteousness. Let us serve the Lord and participate in the mission of the Church as new evangelizers,” he said.
“We just could not keep the seed of faith that was sown in our land to ourselves. We must proclaim it. We are called to be agents of evangelization, and be instruments of propagating and proclaiming God’s kingdom starting in our homes,” he added.
This year’s celebration carries the theme “Sto. Niño: Inspiration of Renewed Disciples for the New Evangelization ”which is patterned after the pastoral thrust of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons.
In 2013, the CBCP launched a nine-year “spiritual journey towards the 500th Jubilee of Christianization of the Philippines in 2021 with different themes for each year.
Nohara said being disciples of the Lord, however, is not an easy task.
“In our times, there are lots of obstacles such as secularism and even temptations to become selfish and to hate others. But let us remember that God is not please with those who hate his fellow human being. God does not favor the proud and unrepentant men,” Nohara said.
“Let our faith to Señor Sto. Niño inspire us to humbly accept our own sins and weaknesses while asking for mercy and healing from God, submitting ourselves to Him so that we can become his true disciples,” he added.
As part of tradition, the fiesta’s Hermano and Hermana Mayores for 2018—Rosalina Go and son Mark—were officially presented to the people during the Mass with about 50 diocesan and religious priests as concelebrants.
During the offertory, people 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 Sto. Niño.
At the end of the first novena Mass, Nohara carried the image of the Sto. 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 Sto. Niño, will be open 24 hours from January 11 to 21 to accommodate the multitude of Sto. Niño devotees who come to pay homage to the original image of the Sto. 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. to allow the janitors to clean the basilica. Except on January 11 and 19 when there are dawn processions, 11 Masses will be held at the Pilgrim Center every day leading to the feast of the Sto. Nino.
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