Novena masses to Sto. Niño go virtual amid COVID-19 threat

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Cebu City (CNN Philippines, January 12) — The friars of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño announced the cancelation of all public novena masses leading to the Sto. Niño feast day on January 17 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting today, the supposed fifth day of the nine-day novena masses will only be available online via Facebook and YouTube pages of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño.

The announcement was made during a virtual press conference with local reporters on Monday evening which was also joined by local government and police officials of Cebu City.

"At present, it has been a tough challenge for the Basilica administrators with the government and private agencies to manage the flock of devotees and pilgrims at the Basilica in our simplified celebration of the novena and the upcoming feast," said Fr. Rick Anthony Reyes reading the official statement of the Order of Saint Augustine.

"For four days we have observed that the surge of people coming to venerate and celebrate the Novena Masses has brought us into a conclusion that a greater action should be done to prevent us from the virus (infection)."

Reyes said the Basilica will remain open for the devotees, but there will no longer be Holy Masses. The public may only go inside the Church to "venerate" for a few minutes and leave afterwards.

Lighting of candles which often gets crowded will also be not allowed inside the Basilica.

"As this 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," said Reyes.

To prevent further influx of devotees from towns in Cebu Province, the Basilica and the Archdiocese of Cebu will bring five pilgrim images of the Santo Niño to different parishes in the different towns as far as Bantayan Island. The other images of the Holy Child will be also be brought to Boljoon and Ronda in the Southern portion of Cebu and Danao City in the North as well as Balamban in the Western Coast of Cebu Island.

Cebu-based correspondent Dale Israel contributed to this report.