Thousands flock to Davao’s Sto. Ni?o feast

Nine hourly mass services were held from 7a.m. up to 5:30 p.m. including one celebrated by Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla. In the afternoon, organizers held the traditional procession parading the image of the Infant Jesus, commonly known as Sto. Nino, around the Shrine compound in Matina.  

But organizers said the devotees this year, estimated at around 6,500 is the lowest in the last four years.

Richard Piñafel, supervisor of the facility, cited a number of reasons in the decrease, among them the weather and the recent bombings in General Santos, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Piñafel said the fact that the feast fell on a Monday was another factor. He said those who are working during weekdays could not make it. He estimated thousands of devotees who went there Sunday.

He said today’s crowd did not match the size during the closing ceremonies of the National Youth Day in November, which was also held in the shrine. 

Last year, Piñafel said, the estimated size of the devotees was at 10,000.

Police officers and members of army's Task Force Davao were stationed in various spots of the shrine. They joined private security guards and barangay security volunteers in securing peace and order in the area, Piñafel said.

Police limited the entry of vehicles to those with car passes.

The city government enforced a one-way traffic in the main road leading to the shrine and dispatched traffic personnel.

Vendors were not allowed entry to the shrine, although there were many who evaded security. 

The Shrine runs a shop that sells religious articles, rosaries, medals, pamphlets, and novena guides to the devotees.

Devotees from other places in Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon came to the shrine Monday, Piñafel said.

Most of the devotees came with their family and brought their own image or replica of the infant Jesus.

Alice Canonigo, 46, from Tagum City, said she comes to the feast every year as her way of fulfilling her "panata" (pledge) to the infant Jesus, in exchange for a petition.

Before or after mass, devotees fall in line to kiss or touch the image of the infant Jesus and to pause for a brief prayer of devotion.

Unlike the revelry of celebrations of the feast of the infant Jesus in Cebu's Sinulog festival and Kalibo Aklan's Ati-atihan, the feast here is devoted to a spiritual tone. 

This year's theme is "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you".

In his homily, Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla reminded the devotees to follow the deed of the infant Jesus. "You cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, unless you become like children," he said.