Testament of faith: Devotees celebrate return of in-person Sinulog festivities

John Sitchon
Testament of faith: Devotees celebrate return of in-person Sinulog festivities

RENEWAL OF DEVOTION. After a suspension of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Church’s Fiesta Señor in Cebu City draws a jubilant crowd of devotees of the Child Christ in a dawn procession on January 5.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

Gratitude for blessings despite the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is a common thread among devotees

CEBU, Philippines – Sixty-year old Jack Lopez’s illuminated replica of the Santo Niño stood out amid the tens of thousands of Child Christ icons in the arms of devotees who thronged Cebu City’s streets on Thursday, January 5.

“It was in 1988…I bought this in one of the stores downtown,” he told Rappler in Cebuano during the dawn procession heralding the start of the Catholic Church’s Fiesta Señor.

At the time of purchase, Lopez was a member of the Philippine Constabulary, a precursor to the Philippine National Police. 

Now retired, Lopez still bears the crew cut hair favored by older veterans. His posture, even seated on the sidewalk, remains ramrod straight. When he speaks of the Santo Niño, his face softens with a smile.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled this city’s famous street devotion, Lopez is happy to physically display his devotion together with an estimated 300,000 other believers.

“Lipay kaayo isip usa ka Cebuano nga makabalik na gyud mi (We’re so happy as Cebuanos that we can finally get back to this),” Lopez told Rappler, holding his Santo Niño wrapped in colorful lights.

ILLUMINATING. Lopez proudly holds his Santo Niño replica during the January 5 dawn procession at the start of Cebu’s Fiesta Señor religious feast. John Sitchon/Rappler

Few things bring him more joy than to light up the Child Jesus in the family home during Christmas, he said.

The Fiesta Señor, which leads to the secular Sinulog festivities, is a time to bond with the bigger community of believers, he added.


Joy Amora, a 56-year-old owner of a religious items shop near the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, also feels the same joy, especially after seeing thousands of devotees visit her again.

She saw her sales dip since 2020 when the pandemic made in-person activities for the Fiesta Señor and Sinulog impossible.

“Nagpasalamat mi intawn sa Santo Niño kay nakasurvive ra gihapon mi bahalag ga krisis (We’re thankful to Santo Niño because we were still able to survive despite the crisis),” she said.

Amora has seen to the needs of the families of devotees and their replicas of the child Jesus even in her youth, providing freshly-sewn garments for the Santo Niños and selling crosses and rosaries.

Amora told Rappler she feels blessed because her five children and ten grandchildren, and the love of her life, all support her in taking care of the shop.

PANDEMIC SURVIVOR. Joy Amora is only one of many religious item store owners who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic when it hit Cebu, forcing the suspension of in-person religious celebrations. John Sitchon/Rappler

Similarly, devout partners Windell and Rena Paterez thanked the Santo Niño for their breakthroughs in life, especially in marriage – both have been happily together since November 2003.

Rena told Rappler that during the pandemic, her husband became unemployed for one month but help came from friends and family.

“Ang tabang gipaagi sa Ginoo sa among mga relatives (God sent us help through our relatives),” she said.

The couple said waking early to participate in the Walk with Jesus, a two-kilometer procession from Fuente Osmeña Circle to the Basilica, was their way of expressing gratitude for the blessings given them in a time of need.

“I believe in the Santo Niño because no matter how many problems we have faced, he would still make sure that grace would come to us,” Rena said in a mix of English and Cebuano.

TOGETHER. Windell and Rena Paterez attend the Solemn Mass at the Basilica even when there are no more available seats inside the church. John Sitchon/Rappler
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