Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I START LATE FOR my pilgrimage. It is 2:30 PM of a Saturday; January 14, 2012. This will be my fourth appearance for the “fiesta señor” solemn procession held in honor for Cebu's beloved patron – the Señor Santo Niño or the Holy Child Jesus.
Last year, I walked the procession with four other companions but they (and their faith) evaporated as soon as the first drops of rain begun to hit them. I finished the procession together with other persistent devotees despite the strong torrents of rain lashing Metro Cebu. I was fasting then and got poked everywhere by umbrellas but I survived. It was one of my defining points of my faith.
Today, I still fast and I will be alone this time. My starting point will be from my house and I negotiate the back alleys to CJ Cuizon Street and then to GL Lavilles Street. Infront of me is an empty MJ Cuenco Avenue. Streaming along on the shady part of the street like ants are pilgrims going on their way to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño.
The sun is shining after several weeks of insistent rains. I am prepared for the worst, rain or shine. I wear my South African leather veldt hat, my grey commemorative PIBC 20111 t-shirt, my St. John's Bay dark-blue walking shorts and my tan-colored Rivers hiking boots. I carry an empty wallet, a Sony DSC220 digital camera, a Nokia 2730 and empty plastic for waterproofing.
My familiarity with Cebu, being a descendant of original residents, work to my advantage so I could evade the crowd. I took a right turn to Zulueta Street then take a short cut to Colon Street via the seldom-known Dimasalang Street. I reach D. Jakosalem Street and follow east until the huge crowd converging at the corner of Osmeña Boulevard made it impossible for me to go on.
I join the slow moving mass of devotees but found the sea of umbrellas too tormenting for my comfort. I have to extricate myself from my constricting location and move sideways slowly and courteously for the south side of the line. I find the sidewalks much better for catching up the carroza that carried my dear Sr. Sto. Niño.
On the sidewalks, I found I could work better with my camera; snatching a shot here and a shot there. One of those I enjoyed most is taking a picture at a cameraman poised for a shot – shooting the shooter! There are many I snipe at and I lose count of them. Maybe, one of these cameramen might have returned the favor?
Anyway, the procession cross Colon and continue into the uptown area. I am able to catch up with the carroza as it stop below an overhead pedestrian bridge between Sanciangco and P. del Rosario Street. On the background everywhere as I pass is the song “Batobalani sa Gugma” and I watch with awe of the deep faith shown by the devotees as they raise and wave a hand in homage to the Holy Child Jesus whenever the chorus is sung.
I walk abreast with the carriage on the other unused lane of Osmeña Blvd. until I reach another overhead bridge near Fuente Osmeña. I climb the two flights of stairs and observe the scene from above. The view is quite dramatic and so soul-flexing. The throng of pilgrims are so thick coming from downtown and converge near Robinson's Place where it is joined by a steady stream of more crowds coming from Capitol and B. Rodriguez Street.
As the main body approach the overhead pass, people waved and prayed their petitions before the Holy Child Jesus. Cameras clicked everywhere trying to get the best shot. I go down on the other side to transact money through an ATM as my craving for water became acute. I climb back the bridge and returned to the south side of the line unable to find a drink yet.
I need to evade the heavy crowd at Robinson's. I go the other way of Fuente Osmeña in a half-circle and, fortunately, water were given freely there and I ask for one and thank you very much. I take a short cut to the main route of General Maxilom Avenue passing by an underpass between Elegant Circle Inn and Rajah Park Hotel, Llorente Street and Juana Osmeña Street.
Strangely, the crowd is not that thick here. I assume the main body have not gotten past the bottleneck at Fuente Osmeña. I decide I have to tarry a while infront of St. Therese College and wait for the carroza to arrive. Slowly the crowds began to filter in and I could now hear the AFP Central Command brass band doing its rendition of the “Batobalani sa Gugma”.
Now they come. The green line of criminology interns appear shielding out the rest of the crowd from approaching the carriage with double ropes while a company of volunteers and blue security guards walk ahead of them to make way for the Sr. Sto. Niño's coming. Despite the confusion, there is order. Credit that to the gentle spirit of Catholic Cebuanos.
By now, the pilgrims populate every space along Gen. Maxilom Ave. as the route goes on into the direction of MJ Cuenco Ave. I hold on to the ropes to keep pace with the carroza until I arrive at the bottleneck at the terminus of both lanes wherein I decide to walk ahead instead and stop for a while to chat with friends near the Museo Sugbu.
I walk on and take a quick sip of water as I reach my house. My wife Vilma and grandson Gabriel, join me at the sidewalk, together with most of my relatives and neighbors to greet and wave a hand of the dear Sr. Sto. Niño's passing. Firecrackers are released into the air and everyone shouted at every burst.
I would have finished my quest when I am now in the comforts of my home but I am accustomed of walking the extra mile. There is one more thing to do and that is to escort my dear Sr. Sto. Niño home to the basilica. That means I have to leave all behind, come what may, hunger or not, thirsty or what.
I hold on to the ropes again, trotting when the pace goes quick; bumping and colliding with fellow pilgrims. At this juncture, the route gets ten times more crowd that are a hundred times more devout. I shudder and my hair stood on its end as shouts of “Viva Señor Santo Niño!” are now more intense and the waving of hands more personal. Camera lights flash and blind me momentarily.
The procession make a right turn to Legaspi St. and I am now in a difficult predicament as the flow of the main body of devotees begin to consume even the line of volunteers at the side streets keeping order on the onlookers. I let go of the rope when I saw a slight break in the thick column of crowds near the office of the Department of Tourism.
I move quick among inert standing people; large pots of boiling cooking oil; sidewalk merchandise; tightly-parked vehicles; and mounds of garbage. I reach Lapulapu Street and turn right to the direction of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño until I could do no more forward approach. I found myself shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the pilgrims in a stiflingly-hot enclosed sidewalk.
It is the best that I could do. Right infront of me is the carroza and my dear Sr. Sto. Niño exiting D. Jakosalem St., taking a right turn to Osmeña Blvd. before entering the arched gate of the basilica. I wave and sing and supplicate before his divine presence. I am sweating as it is hot and I have not had a regular intake of fluid because I am fasting and I reconsider that journey back home.
I maneuver slowly out and join the long queue of pilgrims streaming out of that narrow location and I welcome the open spaces and fresh air. Even as I and the other devotees help reduce the number of people in and around the basilica, still there are many who take our places and it is still part of the procession. I find myself relegated to the curbs and gutters traveling on the opposite direction.
Finally, I reach home and I want that dinner please. Before me on the dining table are sauteed prawn in spicy-hot tomato sauce, fried chicken and raw anchovies in spiced vinegar. Tomorrow will be the mother of all Philippine feasts – the Sinulog Grand Festival and Mardi Gras. Pit Senyor everyone!
VIVA SEÑOR SANTO NIÑO!
Document done in Libre Office 3
1I organized the first Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp which was held last June 11-12, 2011 in the Babag Mountain Range.