THE cold dawn air did not dampen the spirits of Santo Nino devotees who participated in yesterday’s Penitential Walk with Jesus.

Holding candles, rosaries and images of the Santo Niño and other saints, some 56,000 devotees started walking from the Fuente-Osmeña circle to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño at around 4:30 a.m.

The image of the Santo Niño de Cebu was held aloft as devotees prayed the rosary.

According to estimates of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), some 56,000 people joined the procession yesterday.

Sr. Supt. Conrad Capa, officer-in-charge of the CCPO, said everything ran smoothly as there were over 200 policemen stationed along the procession route.

He said that during the procession, some 27,000 people walked with the image of the Holy Child.

The police came up with the estimate by measuring the area of the road, which is about 150 meters long and 30 meters wide, or about 4,500 square meters of space. This was multiplied by six, which is the average number of people that would fit in one square meter.

The other 29,000 were already inside the basilica, computed using the same formula.

After the hour-long penitential walk, the first of nine novena masses was then celebrated at the basilica, officiated by basilica rector Fr. Jonas Mejares.

In his homily, Mejares reminded the faithful that while there is nothing wrong with being ambitious or aspiring for success, fulfilling such ambitions without the guidance of God is dangerous.

He addressed those who aspire to become rich but refuse to share their riches with the less fortunate.

“Ang gahum ug bahandi maayo nga sulogoon, pero dili maayo nga agalon (Power and riches are good servants, but they are bad masters),” Mejares said.

He said there is nothing wrong with aspiring for something, as even Jesus Christ also aspired to fulfill his mission for the rest of the world.

Mejares also reminded the faithful, especially those who are involved in social media, to be responsible and to avoid using social network sites to attack others.

“Ang Facebook ug ang lain matang sa social media grasya gikan sa Ginoo busa gamiton nato sa maayong pamaagi (Facebook and other social media platforms are gifts from God, so let us use it to promote good),” he added.

After his homily, Mejares sang “The Impossible Dream” from the musical “The Man of La Mancha” to highlight his message to the faithful.

After the mass, Mejares told reporters that his homily can be interpreted in different ways, including his dream that Pope Francis would visit Cebu during the fiesta.

While such a dream is far-fetched, Mejares is still hopeful that the Pope would grace the Fiesta Señor with his presence.

Also during the mass yesterday, optometrists Jose Enrique and Jill de las Peñas were formally installed as this year’s Hermano and Hermana Mayores.

The Penitential Walk with Jesus and the first mass kicked off this year’s Fiesta Señor celebration.

Starting yesterday morning until Jan. 18, the basilica will be open to the public for the nine-day novena masses.

Masses will be offered from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Though no major untoward incident was reported during the procession and the novena mass, a woman who attended the procession was robbed by two men on her commute going home to Barangay Talamban.

The victim was seated on the front seat. When the jeepney reached Barangay Banilad, two men on a motorcycle stopped beside the jeepney and took the victim’s iPhone.

Policemen from the CCPO’s Investigation and Detective Management Branch (IDMB) happened to pass by the area and were able to arrest Ronaldo Purisima, 36, one of the two robbers. Ronald del Rosario eluded arrest.

Del Rosario managed to run and jumped off a creek when the police chased him.

Sr. Insp. Aileen Recla, chief of the IDMB, said that they were not able to get the name of the victim since she opted not to file a case.

Several items were confiscated from Purisima, including the blue motorcycle that they used. A caliber 38 pistol and several empty walletsm were also found in the motorcycle’ s compartment.

Purisima is detained at the CCPO stockade.