BEGINNING Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, devotees will no longer be allowed to physically attend any novena masses at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño as a precautionary measure against coronavirus infections, Augustinian priests announced on Monday, Jan. 11.
The priests, Cebu City Government and the police reached a consensus to cancel the public masses after contact tracers reported that four individuals may have contracted Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), when they attended a mass.
Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, Emergency Operations Center (EOC) deputy chief implementer, said one of the four individuals had attended a Misa de Gallo mass while the other three had attended a regular mass.
All novena masses that will be held until the Fiesta Señor on Sunday, Jan. 17, will be broadcast through the Facebook page and Youtube channel of the Basilica as well as through their media partners’ social media sites, including SunStar.
In Mandaue City, Mayor Jonas Cortes has also canceled all activities related to the Panagtagbo Festival.
Basilica head secretariat Ric Anthony Reyes said the Basilica, Cebu City Government, EOC and the police agreed on the cancellation of the public masses.
“For the four days, we have observed that the surge of people coming to venerate and celebrate the novena masses has brought us into a conclusion that a greater action should be done to prevent us from the virus,” he said, reading from their official statement.
“Having this situation in mind and moreover reminded by Christian morals that the utmost goal of the Church is to bring each and every Christian to an integral salvation, not only of the soul but also of the body which includes our health and well-being, we decided to cancel all public masses in the Basilica and to continue to celebrate through virtual or online as scheduled starting Jan. 12, 2021, Tuesday, fifth day of the novena until the Fiesta Señor, Jan. 17, 2021,” he added.
Fr. Aladdin Luzon, OSA, said the Basilica will remain open, but the public will have no access to the novena mass.
The same mass schedule will be followed for the online platform, with the first novena mass to be held at 5 a.m., followed by another at 6:30 a.m., then at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Lighting of candles at the Basilica will also not be allowed.
The devotees will be allowed to pray inside the church, provided they follow the railings installed inside.
Projector screens installed in the vicinity of the Basilica will be taken down starting Jan. 12, but the barricades will remain as some devotees may still go to the church to venerate.
Luzon said other churches in the city can still hold the novena masses.
Those that are holding novena masses are Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Punta Princesa, Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Pardo, Alliance of Two Hearts Parish in Banawa, St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Lahug, St. Nicolas de Tolentino Parish in Sawang Calero, Sto. Niño Parish SVD in Suba, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church in Guadalupe, San Pedro Calungsod Chapel in the South Road Properties (SRP), Capitol Parish, Sto. Rosario Church and Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral.
Luzon also said the visitation of the image of Señor Sto. Niño to churches in Danao City, Balamban, Ronda, Boljoon and Bantayan Island will push through.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, in a separate interview, said he strongly supports the decision of the Basilica.
Labella said “it is very difficult to control” fervent devotees of the Holy Child.
Since Dec. 29, 2020, daily coronavirus cases in Cebu City have increased to double-digit levels.
As of Jan. 10, the number of active cases in Cebu City has increased to 353. Of this number, about two in three (or 66.55 percent) were traced to outside transmission while 31.78 percent were due to household transmission.
Cases of outside transmission came mostly from social gatherings (20.39 percent) and workplaces (18.9 percent).
Infections among medical frontliners comprised 18.4 percent, EOC data showed. Garganera said 48 medical frontliners from 10 different hospitals tested positive for the virus.
Cumulative coronavirus cases in Cebu City have reached 11,134, including 693 mortalities and 10,088 recoveries.
Despite this, Labella said he does not think there is a need to revert Cebu City to general community quarantine (GCQ), a more restrictive form of community quarantine.
Cebu City is under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until the end of January.
Mandaue City, which is also under MGCQ, is also supposed to hold the Panagtagbo Festival.
Cortes said this year’s festival would have been grand in line with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in Cebu.
“Sometimes we have to make tough decisions no matter what,” Cortes said.
He urged the people to keep their faith in the Señor Sto. Niño despite the cancellation of the religious activities.
The Panagtagbo Festival celebrates the reunion of the Holy Family, when the images of the Señor Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe are transferred to the National Shrine of Saint Joseph.
Aside from the religious activities, the festival also features street dancing and showdown.
Because of the pandemic, not one activity related to the festival has been held, Cortes said. (JJL / KFD)