A plane peppers confetti on the participating boats and vessels in yesterday morning's fluvial procession on the Mactan Channel. Meanwhile, up to an estimated three million showed up in the solemn procession in the afternoon.
Aldo Nelbert Banaynal
Procession draws 3 million: Faith at sea and on land
Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon, Romeo T. Limpangog, Iris Hazel M. Mascardo (The Freeman) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Most Rev. Father Midyphil Billones opened the Fiesta Señor vesper homily last night with the story of “Butchoy,” a six-year-old boy whose only toy was the image of Sto. Niño.

Born to a poor family, Butchoy never had the great stuffs in life but he took pride in having the image for a toy, declaring to his rich friends its “superpowers.”

“Sto. Niño’s powers consisted of a magnetic force of love, the so-called ‘megatrons explosives’ that wasn’t meant for destruction but rather a conversion of Holy Niño’s love and faith,” Fr. Billones told thousands of devotees at the Pilgrim Center of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

But its last power, which is also the greatest, according to Fr. Billones, was “dying for everyone’s sins.”

“That’s easier if you have the weapon to become the greatest fighter, pero kung ang imong (but if your) greatest weapon mao ang gugma, kay ihalad mao ang kinabuhi sa krus para kitang tanan (is love, then you’re willing to offer your life in the cross for all),” he said.

The Pontifical Mass that Fr. Billones officiated culminated the 6.5-kilometer Solemn Procession of the miraculous image of Sto. Niño that attracted an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million devotees or twice as many as last year’s turnout of 1.5 million.

Colonel Clark Arriola, public information officer of the Cebu City Police Office, said the estimate came from the event commander in coordination with other Task Force Sinulog member-agencies.

Asked what could have contributed to the surge this year, Arriola credited it to the rising popularity of the Sinulog, as well as the fact that “people would like to go to places where they are safe.”

“This only means that people, both locals and tourists, are satisfied and ensured with the security that is provided in the City of Cebu,” he said.

Among the vast crowd was first year Hotel Management student Kenneth Reyes, 19, from Talisay City College, who had to sacrifice his family’s annual joining of the foot procession to fulfill his duties as part of the human barricade to secure the procession. He is a student of Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

His prayers were not for himself but for his family to have good health.

Reyes said he did not mind skipping the procession in exchange of “protecting the Señor Sto. Niño,” which he considered a privilege.

Devotees trailing the carroza of the Sto. Niño harbored different prayers and intentions. For MAPEH teacher Rick Hermoso, 29, that prayer is for the society to accept him and the other members of the LGBT community.

Now on his sixth year of joining the procession, Hermoso, who was clutching an image of the Child Jesus, said the LGBT people are not demanding special treatment from anyone. “Mere respect would be enough,” he said.

Hermoso travelled all the way from Leyte just to attend the annual procession, not minding being absent from class for a day or two in the name of his devotion.

As announced, cellphone signals were cut off in Cebu City, Mandaue City, and Lapu-Lapu City until 10 a.m. yesterday. After being restored for two hours, they were once again shut off to secure the foot procession that lasted until 8 p.m.

Today, the signal shutdown will run from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. in downtown and uptown Cebu City areas. President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to grace the Sinulog Grand Parade program at the Cebu City Sports Center today.

‘All is well’

Meanwhile, from the shores of the Mactan Channel, the scene yesterday looked like that from a movie.

Small boats to big ships – some adorned with red and white buntings and others with various kinds of flowers – glided through the peaceful waters before daybreak as they prepared for the fluvial procession.

Ahead of the fleet was Mandaue Shipping Corp.’s galleon, LCT Teofilo Camomot, ferrying the images of the Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Señor Sto. Niño enroute to Pier 1 in Cebu City.

Above them, a chopper hovered to monitor the security situation.

About midway into the procession, another jet zoomed to drop confetti. On the ground, red balloons were freed into the skies.

Devotees ashore also said their prayers and waved their hands in supplication as the gozos of the Sto. Niño was being sung.

The fluvial procession started at 6:46 a.m. from Captain Veloso Pier in Lapu-Lapu City and the pilgrim images arrived at Pier 1 at 7:54 a.m. From there, the images were taken back to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.

Lt/Jr. Grade Michael John Encina, spokesperson of the Philippine Coast Guard in Central Visayas, said a total of 179 registered vessels accompanied the images. The number is about twice as many as last year’s 89.

Authorities pegged the number of joining individuals at around 42,000, excluding those who dotted each side of the channel to witness the activity.

While no maritime-related incidents were reported, Encina said they encountered some issues that were addressed immediately.

One of these instances was when some vessels, at some point, were blocking the way of the ship that carried the two images in violation of the guidelines earlier set forth by the coast guard for the procession.

Some colorum vessels, or those that did not register with the authorities, were also sighted joining the procession. They will be investigated.

Apart from these notes, Encina assessed that they achieved their target time of disembarkation at Pier 1 as he described the entire proceeding as “all is well.”

Bridged Cities’ Faith

Earlier on, residents in the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu showed their devotion to the Holy Child by sending him off for the procession.

At the National Shrine of Saint Joseph in Mandaue City, where the two images spent the night prior, thousands of devotees heard the farewell mass dawn yesterday.

The devotees then joined the foot procession of the pilgrim images up to the foot of the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge.

After, the images were mounted on a vehicle for the motorcade to the Nuestra Señora de la Regla in the neighboring city of Lapu-Lapu, where thousands of devotees headed by Mayor Junard “Ahong” Chan and city officials also greeted them.

Colonel Clarito Baja, director of Lapu-Lapu City Police Office, estimated the crowds on the streets and inside the church to have reached around 5,000.

A welcome mass was officiated at the church in Lapu-Lapu before the fluvial procession ensued.  JMD (FREEMAN)

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