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453-year-old Sto. Niño feast underway in Cebu City

Throngs of devotees wave their hands in the air during the first Mass to mark the start of the 453rd celebration of the Sto. Niño feast. —ADOR MAYOL

CEBU CITY—Shortly before daybreak, a sea of candlelight illuminated 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 images of the Sto. Niño, prayed the rosary and sang church hymns, which were broadcast live on radio and amplified by speakers during the “Walk with Jesus” procession and the first novena Mass early on Thursday.

The 2-kilometer walk opened this year’s activities in honor of the Child Jesus.

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There were no fireworks or balloons along the procession route to heed an appeal by Augustinian priests in charge of the basilica.

Crowd doubles

Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, head of the Central Visayas police, and the Cebu City police estimated the crowd to be at least 80,000, twice last year’s 40,000, at the start of the feast.

Councilor Dave Tumulak said the crowd size was computed by assuming four persons filled each square meter of the procession area.

The flower-decked carriage bearing the image of the Sto. Niño arrived at the basilica at 5:19 a.m. and was greeted with shouts of “Viva Pit Señor!” and “Viva Señor Sto. Niño” as church bells pealed.

The 3,500-capacity church courtyard was packed with thousands more spilling into the streets outside.

In a homily, Fr. Pacifico “Jun” Nohara Jr., basilica rector, said the dawn procession was a “sacrificial manifestation of our faith.”

Proclaiming the faith

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The image of the Sto. Niño was given as a baptismal gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Hara Humamay in 1521.

“We just could not keep the seed of faith that was sown in our land to ourselves,” Nohara said in his homily. “We must proclaim it,” he said.

The basilica complex, which has been the center of the 4-century-old devotion to the Sto. Niño, will be open 24 hours from Jan. 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 janitors to clean up. Except on Jan. 11 and Jan. 19 when there are dawn processions, 11 Masses will be held at the Pilgrim Center every day leading to the feast of the Sto. Niño.

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