All Masses will be held online for the 457th Fiesta Señor in Cebu City from January 7 to 16, 2022, the Augustinian friars of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu announced during a press conference on Thursday morning, November 4.
“In consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic which lingers, the BMSN (Basilica Minore del Santo Niño) friars with Cebu City government and the EOC (emergency operations center) in Cebu City, after assessment and discernment decided to hold virtual novena mass for the fiesta celebration,” Father John Ion Miranda, an Augustinian priest, told local media in a statement.
The Fiesta Señor is the annual religious celebration of the Holy Child Jesus, which takes place every third Sunday of January in Cebu City and is held simultaneously with the cultural Sinulog Festival.
According to Miranda, the open-air pilgrim center will be accepting in-person visitors from 4:30 am to 7:30 pm for the duration of the novena for candle lighting and veneration of the image of the Santo Niño.
The original Santo Niño located inside of the church, however, will be off limits to the public.
The church is requiring all volunteers to be fully-vaccinated.
In-person novena Masses were cancelled halfway through the 2021 Fiesta Señor due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
While Cebu City has one of the lowest transmission rates among the big cities in the country following the Delta surge, EOC head and city councilor Joel Garganera said they did not want to erase the gains made.
“Our situation right now [COVID-19] is going down. But if you have to compare our situation right now with last year – last year was much better. We didn’t even reach more than 1% positivity rate,” Garganera said during the press conference.
OCTA Research recently classified Cebu City as “very low risk” for COVID-19 transmission with current active cases down to 267 with a daily positivity rate that has stayed below the 5% threshold for the past month.
Cebu City Councilor and head of the public safety committee head Phillip Zafra noted that during normal times, pilgrims and devotees who come out for the Fiesta Señor and Sinulog events number in the millions.
“It’s better we will always be on the side of caution. Still, about 40% are fully vaccinated, far from the 70% [target] so we are happy with the decision of the Basilica,” Zafra said in a mix of Cebuano and English. “If we open our face-to-face novena, the influx of people will surely be overwhelming with anything that has to do with the Santo Niño.”
According to latest vaccination statistics, only 46.01% of the eligible population in Cebu City has been fully vaccinated out of its 70% target, while 49.64% have been fully vaccinated of the entire Metro Cebu target population.
The city aims to increase their vaccination rate by taking vaccines to residents in the barangays of urban poor communities and the rural upland areas.
For more information on the Fiesta Señor’s activities and rules, check out the Basilica’s Facebook page. – Rappler.com