The annual “Fiesta Señor” celebration in the central Philippine city of Cebu kicked off “virtually” on Friday, January 7, at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño amid rising cases of coronavirus infections.
Instead of the traditional early morning religious procession dubbed “Walk with Jesus,” Church leaders held a motorcade, which was broadcast online, along major streets of the city where devotees lined up to catch a glimpse of the Child Jesus.
Augustinian Father Nelson Zerda, rector of the basilica, urged devotees to continue to hope and pray for the end of the pandemic.
The priest cited the day’s Gospel reading that tells of Jesus touching and healing a leper. “Thankfully, we are not alone,” said Father Zerda.
“We continue to pray for courage and strength that like the leper in today’s gospel we too would be able to humbly express our prayers, our petitions, our sanctity to the Child Jesus,” he said.
The once crowded pilgrim center outside the basilica has been converted into a space where devotees can light candles and venerate a replica of the image of the Child Jesus.
Devotion to the image of the Child Jesus, which is usually dressed as a king, has been part of popular piety in the Philippines for centuries.
The oldest and most popular image of the Santo Niño or Child Jesus can be found in the city of Cebu where the grandest celebration dubbed the “Sinulog” is held every year.
Every January, millions of people flock to a basilica in Cebu where the Santo Niño image is housed while religious processions and colorful parades are held in the streets of the city.
In recent years the events have drawn up to three million people, making Cebu’s Sinulog one of the largest annual events in the Catholic world.
The Sinulog or dance prayer, the oldest festival in the country, comes from the Cebuano word “sulog” or water current.
The dance move depicts the flow of water to the beat of drums.
Devotees wave their hands in the air and shout “Viva Senor Santo Nino!” of “Hail to the Holy Child! and “Pit Senor!” short for “Sangpit sa Senyor (Call to King)” while dancing.
The 38-cm-tall image of the Santo Niño in Cebu is a gift from Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the queen of the island, Juana, during her baptism as a Catholic.