MANILA, Philippines (CNS) –– The Cebu Archdiocese in the central Philippines kicked off festivities Jan. 8 to honor the Child Jesus, or Santo Niño de Cebu, while following strict COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
The Philippines' oldest festival, which attracts millions of devotees each year, culminates with the feast of Santo Niño on the third Sunday of January.
Ucanews.com reported that, because of pandemic, the Cebu Archdiocese insisted on certain requirements being observed before churchgoers are allowed to enter church premises to participate in religious activities and called on devotees to also follow activities online. Father Mhar Balili of Cebu Archdiocese said devotees accepted the guidelines and understood why some activities had to be canceled.
"To all pilgrims and devotees, please be reminded to obey and follow our safety and health protocols ... in this time of pandemic," Cebu Archdiocese announced on social media.
Churchgoers were asked to present a "quarantine pass" issued by local health centers as proof they were free from coronavirus. Those who do not present one were to be denied entry to churches.
"Strict security was implemented in order to ensure the safety of devotees attending the first Mass," the archdiocese said. The first Mass, kicking off the festival, was held at the Cebu metropolitan cathedral.
Organizers also asked churchgoers to maintain social distancing protocols.
Archdiocesan officials canceled the traditional touching of an image of the Child Jesus. The image was a gift by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the wife of a local chieftain when he landed on Mactan Island near Cebu in 1521. It is considered the oldest Spanish relic in the Philippines and draws millions of devotees to Cebu over the course of each year.
To observe social distancing, schoolteachers sent a video for the Mass by waving greetings to the Child Jesus.
"The pandemic will never stop us from our devotion to our beloved Child Jesus," they said in their video.