CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The celebration of the feast of the Black Nazarene in Cagayan de Oro on Sunday, January 9, will be sober for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the spike in the number of infections, and the threat posed by the more transmissible Omicron variant.
Local Catholic archdiocese officials announced the decision to call off Cagayan de Oro’s version of the annual Traslacion – the procession of the image of the Black Nazarene – fearing that it would be a “super spreader” event.
The only one of its kind in Mindanao and a much tamer version than Quiapo’s, the Cagayan de Oro Traslacion had been a crowd drawer until the COVID-19 pandemic.
In pre-pandemic times, thousands of religious devotees from all over Mindanao flocked to the city to take part in the annual procession and other religious activities that started as early as January 8. Those who found travel to Manila costly opted for Cagayan de Oro.
Monsignor Perseus Cabunoc, the parish priest of Cagayan de Oro’s Nazareno Church, said the religious activity will start at 3 am on January 9, a time when most people are asleep.
Instead of a procession, the image of the Black Nazarene would be brought out of the Nazareno Church and would be paraded through a motorcade around the city to prevent people from crowding the streets, Cabunoc said.
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Jose Cabantan would also break tradition by officiating Mass at the Nazareno Church instead of at the bigger Saint Augustine Metropolitan Cathedral.
The procession on Sunday morning would mark the third time for the life-sized replica of the Black Nazarene to be brought out of the Nazareno Church without a huge crowd of religious devotees surrounding it.
In 2021, the religious icon was placed on the back of a truck and paraded around the city during its feast day. On Good Friday, the Callejeron was brought out again for those who contracted COVID-19 and paraded through a motorcade.
Nick Jabagat, head of the Cagayan de Oro Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Department (CDRRMD), said they would put up steel barriers to prevent people from crowding and touching the image inside the church.
“Touching or wiping the image with handkerchiefs will be prohibited,” Jabagat said.
Jabagat said they would also make sure that only 20 vehicles would be used during the Sunday motorcade.
He said authorities would be strict in implementing a 50% capacity rule inside the Nazareno Church to ensure social distancing.
But churchgoers would not be required to show their vaccination cards or QR codes, Jabagat said.
City officials are strictly implementing health protocols after a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases was reported in Cagayan de Oro.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno said he was anticipating more COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks because of the Omicron variant. – Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.
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