CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Cagayan de Oro saw the number of religious devotees flocking to its two major Holy Week pilgrimage sites dropping by some 80% despite easing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Some 4,800 religious devotees trekked 4.5 kilometers, including nine river crossings, to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Igbalalay Hills in the village of Balubal on Maundy Thursday, April 14, and Good Friday, April 15, said Major Ivan Viñas, the Cagayan de Oro police spokesperson.
At another popular pilgrimage site in Malasag, Barangay Cugman, some 5,000 people came for the traditional Stations of the Cross visit, said Mario Diaz, a village councilor.
Throngs of religious devotees, many of them from places outside Cagayan de Oro, flocked to the two pilgrimage sites in pre-COVID-19 times.
In 2019, before the local government imposed strict public health restrictions in the city, an estimated 50,000 people took part in the Holy Week activities in these two pilgrimage sites alone, officials said.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno had allowed the pilgrimage sites and public beaches in the city to be opened to the public again, a year after he declared these areas off-limits during the Holy Week to prevent crowding due to the COVID-19 threat.
This year, city hall allowed these places to be opened to full-vaccinated people and not at least 18 years old.
Diaz said the drop in the number of people who took part in religious activities was due to the health protocols still imposed by the city government.
Officials said many people were still worried because COVID-19 has remained to be a threat even after Cagayan de Oro was placed under the least strict alert level category.
In contrast, beaches, recreational and tourism destinations in the city and neighboring areas saw many visitors even during Good Friday.
For instance, Seven Seas Waterpark and Resort in neighboring Opol town in Misamis Oriental alone counted some 1,600 people who went there for its swimming pools on Good Friday. People there started queuing to get in shortly before noon when temperatures began to shoot up. – Rappler.com