CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 August) — Church and police officials in a meeting Tuesday agreed to put up tight security around St. Augustine Cathedral during the celebration of the feast of the city’s patron saint on August 27-28.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma approved the plan for a tight and elaborate security, the first since the archdiocese was founded 80 years ago, in light of terror threats following the July 26 bomb blast at the Limketkail Center that killed eight persons and wounded 46 others.
The security measures include the setting up of steel barriers that would be manned by police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs which church-goers have to go through upon entering the St. Augustine Cathedral on August 27 and 28.
Ledema was briefed on the Oplan Fiesta San Augustine by top officials of the city police who feared terrorists might take advantage of the two-day celebration.
“We have to pray harder that nothing will happen during the fiesta celebration,” Ledesma said of the security plan which had his approval.
Retired Manila archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and 20 bishops from Mindanao and the Visayas are expected to attend the mass at the cathedral on Aug. 28.
Supt. Emmanuel Hebron, deputy chief for operations of the local police said churchgoers will have to pass one by one through the array of steel barriers before they can enter the Cathedral.
Hebron said bomb-sniffing dogs will “sanitize” the pews and altar every after mass starting on August 27.
“Everyone going inside the Cathedral will have to go through a line, our police officers will ask for identification cards during random checks and will check their bags,” he said.
He added the police officers, who are fresh graduates from the police academy, will not be armed in order not to scare the parishioners.
Security will also be tight for vehicles. The Road and Traffic Administration will impose a “no park zone” around Gaston Park fronting the cathedral.
RTA chief Nonito Oclarit said only vehicles with passes issued by Church officials will be allowed to enter the security perimeter that will be set up around Gaston Park.
“We will implement ‘no Pass, no entry’ for vehicles. There will even be no vendors outside the cathedral. Even those selling balloons will be driven away,” Oclarit said.
Monsignor Rey Emmanuel Monsanto, however, raised some questions concerning the tight security around the cathedral.
Monsanto said he finds it hard to believe for the police to check all those entering the cathedral especially those who will be joining the procession.
“Will they check again the people joining the procession? How about those joining the fluvial procession,” he said.
The celebration of the Feast of St. Augustine by the archdiocese has become the center point of the Higala-ay Kagayhaan Festival after being relegated to the background for so many years.
The archdiocese has planned to hold mass weddings, baptisms, and mass feeding for the poor during its two-day celebration.
A fluvial procession, a tradition of the archdiocese 301 years of history, will also be held along Cagayan de Oro River.
The celebration of the Feast of St. Augustine will culminate with a procession around the city on August 28.
According to the webpage of the archdiocese, Pope Pius XI made Cagayan de Oro the second diocese in Mindanao on Jan. 20, 1933. The first diocese in the island was Zamboanga, established by Pope Leo XIII but executed by Pope Pius X in 1910.
The Diocese of Cagayan de Oro had jurisdiction over the then provinces of Surigao, Oriental and Occidental Misamis, Bukidnon, and part of the province of Lanao. Together with Zamboanga it became a suffragan of the new ecclesiastical province of Cebu.
In 1939 the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro was divided again with the creation of the Diocese of Surigao comprising the provinces of Surigao and Agusan; and in 1951 was divided again with the creation of the Diocese of Ozamiz comprising the provinces of Lanao and Misamis Occidental.
On June 29, 1951 Pope Plus XI elevated Cagayan de Oro to an archdiocese with the Most Reverend James Hayes, a Jesuit, as its first archbishop.
Abp. Hayes, after whom a street in the city was named, established the Ateneo de Cagayan now known as Xavier University. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)