Fiesta Señor novenario
First, you must know that it happens in January. Check the date of the third Sunday of the month. That is the feast of Santo Niño Jesus de Cebu, a celebration granted only to Catholics in the Philippines and in Filipino communities abroad.
Count the Saturday before the third Sunday as Vesperas Day or the eve of the Fiesta Señor. The vesperas is the day between the last day of the novena or nine days of preparatory prayers and the feast day itself that locals call “kahulogan.”
The ninth day, a Friday, plus the eight days preceding it are the days of the novenario. The first day is always the second Thursday before the third Sunday of the month.
On that Thursday, you can rise at dawn to join the penitential walk with Jesus. It is a procession with the image of the Christ Child from Fuente Osmeña in uptown Cebu City to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in the city’s waterfront district.
Visit the basilica on each of the succeeding eight days. The novena prayers are offered within the celebration of Holy Mass. They used to be recited after the homily. Now they are offered after the post-communion prayer.
Pay attention to the prayers. They are the words by which your heart is opened to the gifts that the Holy Child gives day by day. Between the opening and concluding prayers, there are petitions for particular daily graces — love on the first day, living faith on the second, meekness and humility on the third, a forgiving heart on the fourth and so on.
Listen carefully to the homily. They help you understand the readings, the psalms, the gospel of the day and the theme for the year’s fiesta. This year’s theme is “Santo Niño: Inspiration of renewed disciples for the new evangelization.”
Connect yourself with the men and women who have been part of the pilgrim church in the Philippines throughout history as you sing the “Gozos” of the Santo Niño. This is the hymn sung during the offertory. It speaks of the arrival of the image of the Holy Child on our shores and of our forebears’ embrace of the Christian faith.
Raise the contents of your heart to heaven as you sing the chorus – “Kanamo maluoy ka unta / nga kanimo nangilaba” (May You have mercy on us who plead with you) – and wave your hand in the air, be it a salute of glorifying the Redeemer, a reaching out that your hand may be held in his, a gesture of receiving his answer to your prayers.
Dance, and pray as you do. If you join the last Mass of the day that begins at 7 p.m., you can take part in the Sinulog in lieu of the recessional hymn. This is an intercessory dance. You raise your own statue of the Santo Niño as you pray for various groups of people. You call on the Lord with the words “Pit Señor.” There is a Pit Señor for the abandoned and rejected, for singles and spouses, for children and parents, students and teachers, the sick and their caregivers, the good and the bad (because as the good Lord Himself said, God’s sun shines and his rain falls on the good and evil alike).
When you have time, join the line going to the image of the Santo Niño enshrined in the marble chapel. These days, go before the end of the 7 p.m. Mass if you want to leave early. The doors close for some time after the last Mass and reopen about an hour and a half later. The history of Cebu around the time of the arrival of the colonizers is retold in paintings mounted along the corridor that leads to the chapel.
Inside, you can pray the words of the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus as you touch the glass encasing the Christ Child – “By your nativity, deliver us, O Jesus; by your infancy, deliver us, O Jesus.” Kiss in veneration the splinter of the Holy Cross in front of the image and pray – “We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, because by your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.”
Light votive candles at the “dagkutanan” in the churchyard. Reliefs of the journey of the Santo Niño may be contemplated on the north side of the candle lighting area, in the cold of the north wind and the warm glow of red candles. You can light three candles and ask for faith, hope and charity. You can light two in honor of the fullness of the humanity and divinity of the Christ, or five in honor of his Sacred Wounds.
Visit the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus himself. He is in a room just before the marble chapel, to your right. Sit there and contemplate the many ways the Savior epitomizes vulnerable love: As a helpless child, as a fragile wafer, as a badly-beaten Nazarene and let your contemplation equip you with the powerful tenderness of the lover.
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