VIRTUAL NOVENA MASSES. Augustinian friars install cameras and monitors for the novena masses which will go virtual starting Tuesday (Jan. 12, 2021) until the feast day on Jan. 17. The Department of Health in Region 7 commended the Augustinian friars overseeing the affairs of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño for canceling public masses to prevent the spread of Covid-19. (Photo courtesy of Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño Media Center)

CEBU CITY – Health authorities here praised officials of the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño for taking an “act of sacrifice” by canceling in-person novena Masses to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Department of Health (DOH)-Region 7 chief pathologist Dr. Mary Jean Loreche on Tuesday said the Augustinian friars are strict in implementing health protocols, as well as limiting the capacity inside the Basilica, but the hard part is the control of people outside the church.

“They were able to control the environment inside the Basilica. But the people crammed inside public utility vehicles, take off their masks and shields and turn the shield into a fan due to warm weather. Some roam around malls after church, violating the stay at home advice,” she said in Cebuano.

City officials, including Mayor Edgardo Labella, saw physical distancing as the most violated of all the protocols.

“The World Health Organization and the DOH strictly instructed us to wear a face mask and face shield. But the person wearing the face mask and face shield has a 93-percent probability not to be contracted with coronavirus. If you maintain a distance of one meter with each other, the probability of preventing transmission is 99 percent,” Loreche said.

While the government respects the tradition of the Cebuanos to participate in the annual Sto. Niño fiesta, Loreche said: “We are in the abnormal times that it is bad to cram together in one setting”.

Loreche noted the people’s persistence in exercising their faith despite the pandemic, saying the live streaming of celebrations becomes a necessity in fulfilling the duties of the friars in nourishing devotees and pilgrims’ faith to the Sto. Niño.

Fr. Pacifico Nohara Jr., the friar of the Basilica, admitted that it has been a “tough challenge” for the friars administering the Basilica, the government, and the private sector in managing the throng of devotees and pilgrims visiting the historical church even though they have simplified the celebrations.

The priest said while integral in the faith of Roman Catholics is the salvation of the soul, it is also the goal of the church to ensure the people's health and well-being.

“As the change in our celebration may bring sadness to many of us, but the situation has called us to rise above the situation and to choose this course of action for the common good and benefit of all,” he said, as he asked for understanding from devotees and pilgrims of the changes in the Sto. Niño fiesta celebration. (PNA)