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Cebu-Palawan: Pilgrimage and sea adventure

“Viva Pit Señor!” Thousands of pilgrims and devotees shouted as they braved the turbulent waters of the Mactan Channel singing and dancing to the beat of the drums in the Cebu Sinulog fluvial parade to honor Señor Santo Niño. The devotees accompanied the miraculous Sto. Niño image in its short journey from its home, the Basilica Minore de Sto. Niño, to the St. Joseph’s Parish in Mandaue City, a sister city of Cebu.

The fluvial parade is a significant and mainstay event of the Sinulog celebration that happens a day before the Sinulog Festival, which is celebrated every third Sunday of January every year.

About 41 pilgrims from the St. Basil’s Parish in Vallejo, California and Good Shepherd in Sacramento joined the pilgrimage tour headed by Rev. Fr. Leon Juchniewicz. A lone pilgrim from Baguio was gifted the privilege by her sister Teresa Yra from Vallejo, who was part of the entourage. Hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims joined as well. It was a truly memorable spiritual event.

Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb sulog, which means “like water current movement.” It’s a prayer dance. It describes the forward-backward movement of the sinulog dance. The dance consists of two steps forward and one step backward, done to the sound of drums. Pilgrims are taught the dance movements on the boats as it moves steadily towards the Mactan Channel from its starting point in Cordova. During the festivities, communication signals are jammed for security reasons.

In the short ride from the hotel, the pilgrims were given a historical tour of the sites of Cebu along the way and taught simple Cebuano words. The guide greeted us with “Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan” (good morning). Dancers and drummers from Carcar City accompanied the group and led the way to the floating local catamarans (boats).We later found out that students Jane, Trina and JP, May, Cecille, Jonathan, and Giselle were from the Cebu Technology University who were on panata (devotion) themselves.

Joining the fluvial parade was doubly significant as we had to go to boats very early in the morning, about 2 a.m., braving the planks to the boats in darkness with only flashlights to illuminate our path. We boarded two boats. Seated next to me was my sister Tessa and Lilian Gatchalian who I learned, left the Philippines in 1972 and was the former parish secretary of Fr. Leon, our spiritual director. The two-hour ride in darkness was regaled by stories of life before and present.

As we neared our destination in Mandaue City, daybreak slowly crept in. Lo and behold! Thousands of boats with pulsating music and dancing pilgrims greeted us. Each boat had about five crewmembers, who maneuvered and balanced the boats amidst hundreds, maybe thousands of boats, as far as the eye can see. The crew dived and pushed the hulls with long bamboo poles. It was amazing to watch and experience. Viva Pit Señor reverberated in the air with the beating of the Sinulog drums. Pilgrims started dancing and shouting “Viva Pit Señor!” You sort of get immersed in the moment.

The fluvial parade followed Señor Sto. Niño to the pier. Our boat followed the boat carrying the image but because of hundreds of boats we waited until the image was carried to its final destination. Luckily, we were thrown flowers from the boat carrying the image. Blessings from Sto. Niño!

After the fluvial parade, we were given a delicious breakfast of suman, puto maya, and mango on the boat and hopped to three islands: Hilutungan, Nalasuan, and Caohagan where we feasted on seafood barbeque lunch. In Caohagan, we gave gifts to small children, which was another humbling experience. Next week: the Sinulog Festival.

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