OVER 200,000 devotees of Señor Sto. Niño walked about 2.1 kilometers, carrying with them an image of the Holy Child from Fuente Osmeña to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño in Cebu City during the Penitential Walk with Jesus at dawn Thursday, Jan. 9, 2024.
Some devotees said the number of participants may be less than that of last year, speculating that the altered route was a factor, but it did not deter the faith of those who carried on with the tradition.
Fr. Nelson Zerda, BMSN rector, who celebrated the inaugural opening salvo mass for the Fiesta Señor right after the Walk with Jesus, expressed deep appreciation for the sea of devotees who braved waking up early to take part in the foot procession.
The Walk with Jesus began at 4 a.m. from Fuente Osmeña and proceeded to Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, where the nine-day novena masses began at 5:15 a.m. The number this year is less than the 300,000 individuals who joined the Walk with Jesus in 2023.
For Zerda, the pilgrimage symbolized the community’s readiness to embrace Señor Sto. Niño.
Undeterred by the predawn darkness, devout pilgrims embarked on the walk, reflecting the devotion of the Cebuano faithful to honor the revered Sto. Niño.
In his homily, Zerda drew a parallel between the faithful’s act of pilgrimage and the visitation of the three kings, emphasizing their shared purpose to embrace the birth of Jesus Christ.
Much like Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar’s remarkable journey to Bethlehem, the devoted pilgrims of Cebu undertook a penitential walk, symbolizing a far-reaching effort to pay homage to Christ at the Basilica.
Zerda also delved into the psychological concept of imprinting theory by Austrian ethologist Konrad Lorenz.
Drawing a connection, he explained how this theory, associated with young animals forming strong attachments to their caregivers, resonates with the profound devotion and spirituality imprinted on the hearts of the devotees during Cebu’s Fiesta Señor celebration.
The echoes of this spiritual imprint are expected to ripple through the collective memory of Cebu’s vibrant faith community, influencing generations to come.
‘Magnet of love’
The priest also highlighted how Sto. Niño has transformed into a “magnet of love,” translating to “Bato Balani sa Gugma’’ in Cebuano, a term beloved among the Catholic faithful during the novena mass.
Urging the public to embrace the Holy Child, Zerda emphasized not only individual devotion but communal unity as well.
Reflecting on this year’s Fiesta Señor theme, “Sto. Niño: Magnet of love in the synodal church,” Zerda encouraged the faithful to embrace fellow devotees, celebrating the lightness of Sto. Niño.
However, unlike in previous years, devotees faced challenges navigating a modified route along Osmeña Blvd. to take part in the annual foot procession.
Road closures due to the ongoing construction of Package 1 of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) have caused difficulties for some devotees, particularly in areas like the front of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, where one lane was sectioned off.
Shewie Quiros, a resident of Barangay Lahug, was one of the many who woke up early to participate in the walk.
Quiros said this year’s walk was different because there was a smaller crowd. She cited her experience from last year, when people covered the entire Osmeña Circle and a thick crowd filled Osmeña Boulevard.
“Lahi ra g’yud ikompara nimo sa last year og karon,” said Quiros.
(It’s really different now compared to last year.)
She said during the procession, she and other devotees bumped into each other. However, they smiled and continued, knowing that the minor inconvenience was worth it for the sake of honoring Sto. Niño.
Quiros also noted that the weather on Thursday morning was great.
Krizha Henson, a resident of Barangay Bulacao, traveled with her family and prepared as early as 1:30 a.m. She shared that her overall assessment of the procession was okay, but there were some difficulties in certain areas due to the ongoing construction.
“Okay ra, pero naay part lisod ang agianan gyud,” said Henson.
Another devotee, Orlando Justiniani, a resident from Lapu-Lapu City who had to wake up and prepare as early as 2:30 a.m., said his experience was the same as that of last year and that the construction did not affect the overall experience of the walk.
For devotees, making the solemn journey from Fuente Osmeña to the Basilica has been a tradition to celebrate the start of the religious festivities of Fiesta Señor as well as the readiness to accept Señor Sto. Niño in their lives.
Henson said it’s been a tradition for her and her family to join the procession, and her reason is to celebrate the Fiesta Señor. Despite the usual challenges, they are willing to travel and celebrate.
For Justiniani, his reason for joining the procession every year is to sacrifice his time to celebrate Señor Sto. Niño.
Likewise, Quiros said it is worth it every year to join the procession, where she and the other faithful could feel a spiritual connection.
Qurios said Cebuanos and devotees from around the world are blessed because the image of Sto. Niño is in Cebu.