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Millions of people party to the sound of the Santo Niño of Cebu during this last Sinulog

There is a sharp contrast between the dull promise of winter drizzle that envelopes Rome on a typical January Wednesday morning, especially now that the sales are over, versus how the Cebuanos, on the other side of the world, celebrate the Santo Niño of the Philippines.

Five centuries of history have passed since the chronicles of Urdaneta, the Augustinian cartographer who forever connected Europe with America and Asia by sea thanks to his ability to read the winds of the "Pacific" over a distance of 14,000km and a relentless mosquito heat.


The streets, from 5am, are a hotbed of activity that are difficult to navigate. Feral dogs are ready to scavenge, street vendors, fried food stalls with their butane heaters, loudspeakers cranked up to full volume, the intercession candle deliverers, the unsalted white rice eaten by hand, the colours compete with each other and are all dominated by images of the Santo Niño which are reflected in the new puddles of last night’s deluge, and are carried in the outstretched arms of their owners, who show their accreditations to the third police circle and then take their place by the Altar.


"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:15-20).


This constant flow of faithful does not stop for a single moment over the following days, with 13 Masses each day at the Basilica of the Santo Niño de Cebu - starting at 4:30am - and one overlapping with the next in some cases, when homilies overrun, as Fr Ion Miranda, responsible for security at the Basilica, told us in his calm and relaxed voice of experience.

He is content at having welcomed "without any major mishap" over 60,000 people each day for over fifteen days: hundreds of thousands of locals and people from all parts of this giant archipelago of 7,000 islands.

This data collection is just one of the activities occupying our friars in marathon workdays, finding rest, like Fr Genesis (responsible for communication of the Province of Our Holy Child of Cebu and of the Basilica), in any chair in the Media Centre. There, a dozen screens broadcast to the world - his Facebook account alone has more than 830,000 followers. It is a Superbowl production thanks to his good sense of smell for a story and a fantastic team of 70 volunteers who are not afraid to go to every corner of the city in search of those moments that make these celebrations as unique as they are unknown in the West.


United in charity

The Solemn Procession on 20 January saw 3.2 million people walk together, and it is estimated that almost one million people took part in the morning river procession, on over 300 boats on the docks before dawn.  

The Sinulog - a local name given to this event where the Filipino people dance their Catholicity while meeting other cultures and races through the Santo Niño - has that heady mix of time and tradition, where one can experience Eucharistic devotion and the passion of Holy Week at the same time as the most joyful and festive drum roll of the greatest festival.

The Niño, as Fr Tony Banks, Assistant General for Australasia, reminds us, must reflect who he truly represents. And as Fr Genesis tells us, "this is very clear to Cebuanos and devotees, who entrust him with their protection and miraculous intervention" one day at a time, and with their care and longing for peace, and that floods, earthquakes or typhoons do not take away their roof and floor again.  

Under umbrellas or exposed to the elements, Filipinos come together to celebrate the Sinulog. Despite the vast world of differences and singular traits that have divided Rome and Cebu in the past, it is the Spirit in Charity that unites them today and brings these two great centres of Catholic pilgrimage closer than ever before, and where Augustinians are still making their mark.


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