ABOUT 3,000 devotees attended the first novena mass that kicked off the 456th Fiesta Señor celebration, indicating that Catholics have kept the faith despite the devastation caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Fr. Pacifico Nohara Jr., rector of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, made this observation in his homily during the enthronement and opening salvo mass at the Basilica’s Pilgrim Center Friday morning, Jan. 8, 2021.
“Though we do not know each other personally and we have our faces covered, I am very much happy to see all of you who are devotees of the Señor Sto. Niño,” he said in Cebuano.
“Not even corona (coronavirus) can deter our love for the Holy Child,” he added.
Nohara also greeted the senior citizens, children, immigrants, overseas Filipinos and the sick, who could not be physically present but were virtually attending the livestreamed novena masses.
He said they could still send in their petitions and intentions.
Novena masses will be held for nine days. Each will be livestreamed over social media and in designated facilities in Cebu City’s 80 barangays.
Nohara said Catholics should be grateful for the year 2021 as their faith in God and in the Señor Sto. Niño has kept them going amid the economic difficulties and health risks spawned by the pandemic.
“We are grateful because this faith has made us strong especially in times like these when we have nothing else but our faith in God that keeps us going,” he said.
He challenged the present generation to pass on to the next generation the image of the Señor Sto. Niño as a “beautiful icon of love and symbol of faith.”
Nohara also candidly addressed all the single individuals and told them to not worry too much about having no love life.
He urged them to continue to take care of themselves by following the prescribed health standards of wearing a face mask and a face shield, and maintaining social distancing.
He greeted all frontliners, especially those who have been afflicted with Covid-19, with a shout of “Pit Senyor” and encouraged the faithful to include them in their prayers.
Reflecting on the day’s gospel about a leper’s encounter with Jesus, Nohara said this year’s Fiesta Señor celebration would be meaningful if the faithful, like the leper, would be prepared to accept the will and plan of the Lord for their lives.
He asked them to examine their faith and ask themselves whether they have been able to translate their faith into action in their lives and in the community.
He also asked them to ponder on ways to mitigate the challenges in the community brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Peace and order
Police said the first day of the novena masses at the Pilgrim Center was generally peaceful.
Police Col. Josefino Ligan, Cebu City Police Office director, said no crime incidents were reported within and outside the Basilica.
He lauded the churchgoers for complying with the health safety and physical distancing protocols.
“Puera buyag (a Cebuano term to ward off bad luck), the crowd in the vicinity of the Basilica was orderly. They really heeded the physical distancing markers that we placed,” Ligan said.
He said some of those who wanted to enter the Basilica queued as early as 2 a.m. Friday.
Many churchgoers were sent home after they failed to present a quarantine pass.
Authorities have required all devotees to present either a quarantine pass or a company ID, on top of wearing a face mask and a face shield.
Each devotee is also checked for body temperature at the two entrances to the Basilica. Those with temperature exceeding 37.5 degrees Celsius are sent home.
Persons below 15 years old and above 65 years old are also not allowed in the church, based on community quarantine guidelines.
Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, chairman of the committee on public order and safety, said the crowd that attended the first novena mass was better than those who failed to observe physical distancing during the first Misa de Gallo in December.
Residents of Cebu City are required to follow the odd-even schedule on the use of quarantine passes, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said.
Quarantine passes with codes ending in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) may go out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while those with a Q-pass ending in zero and even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8) can go out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The odd-even scheme is suspended on Sundays and all those with a quarantine pass are allowed to go out.
“This is to see to it that only limited (number of) people are there (in the Basilica) at the same time,” Labella said in a press conference on Friday.
Quarantine passes from neighboring local government units are also valid, but the quarantine pass holder needs to also present an identification card.
Labella, however, discouraged non-Cebu City residents from physically attending the novena masses to minimize the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Only authorized persons outside of residence (Apor) who reside in Cebu City are exempted from the quarantine pass requirement.
Cebu City Councilor Phillip Zafra, peace and public order committee chairman, said a copy of the city ordinance that requires residents to bring a quarantine pass and follow the health protocols will be posted at the entrances to the Basilica.
Zafra said this is to remind the public that they can be penalized for stepping outside their homes without a quarantine pass.
Five Kaohsiung buses will be deployed near the entrances starting Jan. 9 to temporarily house those who will be apprehended.
No one was apprehended on the first day, but a number were reprimanded for improperly wearing their face shields, Zafra said.
Face shields should cover the entire face and should not be worn on top of the head.
Labella echoed the call of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma for devotees to hear mass online.
Zafra pointed out that attending the mass broadcast through large screens installed outside the Basilica is just like hearing it online.
“Given that we are still in a pandemic and cases in Cebu City are again gradually increasing, we would like to appeal to the faithful to stay at home and hear mass online. Anyway, they will still view the mass through a large screen if they physically go to the Basilica,” Zafra said. / WBS / AYB / JJL