BELLS RING FOR STO. NIÑO
300,000 join dawn procession
After lying silent for more than two years, three of the six centuries-old bells at the Basilica del Sto. Niño pealed at dawn yesterday to welcome the image of the Child Jesus.
As the bells rang, thousands of devotees applauded and shouted “Viva Pit Señor!”
“I was overjoyed to hear the sound of the bells. How wonderful it is to look at the bell tower rise again. All these are God’s gifts,” basilica rector Fr. Jonas Mejares said in Cebuano at the start of his homily.
Yesterday’s dawn procession to the basilica opened nine-day novena masses leading to the feast day of the Sto. Niño on Jan. 17.
The bell tower crumbled during the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Cebu and Bohol on Oct. 15, 2013. Its reconstruction was finished only recently.
Of the six bells, three have been reinstalled. They were rung as the religious n “Penitential Walk with Jesus” neared the basilica yesterday.
Around 300,000 people joined the two-kilometer prayer walk in honor of the Child Jesus, said Cebu City Transportation Office (CCTO) operations chief Jonathan “Joy” Tumulak.
Young and old devotees carried images of the Sto. Niño, recited the holy rosary and sang liturgical hymns.
The religious event was aired live on radio.
Among those who joined the procession were suspended Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and acting Mayor Edgardo Labella.
Devotee Temoteo Lucernas had one ardent prayer.
“Nanghinaot ko nga mahatagan og laing kahigayonan sa kinabuhi. (I hope to be given a second chance at life),” he said.
His plea was granted in February last year, when the court cleared him of rape charges after 10 years in jail. Lucernas said the charges were fabricated and had ruined his life.
The 39-year-old ex-detainee woke up early yesterday to join the 4 a.m. procession and fulfill a promise to Señor Sto. Niño, whom he credited for his newfound liberty.
“Ang Sto. Niño maoy nagpagawas kanako sa prisohan. Mao ni ang akong unang Fiesta Señor human makagawas sa priso (The Sto. Niño set me free. This is my first Fiesta Señor after I was released from jail),” he said.
“Ug karon ania ko aron magpasalamat Kaniya. Wala gyud ko Niya pasagdi, ug akong nasinati ang Iyang kalooy (And now I’m here to give Him thanks. He never abandoned me, and I have been a recipient of God’s mercy),” he told Cebu Daily News.
After his release, Lucernas chose to remain at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) as an adviser to detainees and an all-around maintenance man.
He said it was his way of giving back to jail personnel and the Lord for the blessings he received.
There were no fireworks or balloons along the route of the solemn procession. The flower-decked carroza that carried the image of the Sto. Niño arrived at the basilica at 5:26 a.m.
The basilica’s courtyard and Pilgrim Center, which has a capacity of 3,500, was packed.
Thousands of devotees spilled over to the streets surrounding the church.
Large LED screens and television monitors around the basilica aired the Mass live. While singing the Sto. Niño hymn “Bato-Balani sa Gugma” (Magnet of Love), devotees waved their hands in the air in veneration.
Fr. Mejares encouraged the faithful to contemplate God’s mercy and compassion, experience it, and share it with others.
“The world we live in was originally so wonderful. And yet man destroyed it through his actions, through conflicts, and other unpleasant means. But thanks be to God; He sent His Son to teach us to be merciful and compassionate,” he said.
He stressed that it is only through mercy and compassion that the world will be restored to its original beauty.
“Let us work with God in fulfilling His mission by reaching out to the poor, helping those who are suffering, teaching the ignorant the right way, and bringing sinners back to God’s fold,” he said.
“Let us restore the beauty of this world through mercy and compassion,” he added.
This year’s Fiesta Señor carries the theme “Sto. Niño: Wellspring of Mercy and Compassion,” which echoes the celebration of Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis.
Mejares, known as the singing Augustinian priest, ended his homily by singing a medley of “What a Wonderful World,” “Heal the World,” I Believe,” and “For Thine is Thy Kingdom.”
As part of tradition, the fiesta’s Hermano and Hermana Mayores for 2016—businessman Mario King and his wife Haydee—were installed during the Mass with about 50 priests as concelebrants.
The basilica complex is open 24 hours a day starting yesterday until the feast day on January 17.
Except on January 7 and 15, when there are dawn processions, 11 Masses will be held at the outdoor Pilgrim Center every day leading to the feast day of the Sto. Niño.
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