ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 20 Sep) – Like last year, this city kicked off its fiesta celebration for St. Michael the Archangel on Monday with much less people in attendance, a far cry from pre-pandemic times when the cathedral could not accommodate the huge crowd.
Every Sept. 20, or nine days before the Feast of St. Michael, Iliganons would flock to the cathedral named after their patron saint for the “Pagpakanaug,” the rites wherein the statue of San Miguel would be brought down from its usual pedestal and placed in a platform closer to the people.
Usually, thousands of people would fill the St. Michael’s Cathedral, from the church grounds all the way to the altar, the people drenched in sweat as devotees chant “Viva Senyor! Viva Senyor San Miguel!”
But with Iligan under General Community Quarantine with its surge of COVID-19 cases the past weeks and the entry of the Delta variant, attendance inside churches has been limited to 30 percent of capacity, as mandated in Mayor Celso Regencia’s Executive Order No. 217 signed on Sept. 7.
As of Monday, there have been 4,463 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iligan with 631 of them considered as active, against 337 deaths, or a case fatality rate of 7.55 percent, which is much higher than the national average of 1.55 percent.
Major Zanrex Panolong, spokesperson of Iligan City Police Station, said that the local church and the Philippine National Police have agreed to follow minimum health protocols. Those without face masks and shields were not allowed to enter the cathedral, the police official said.
He said police personnel were deployed to secure the perimeter of the cathedral while the road in front of the church, a portion of Quezon Avenue (Iligan’s busiest street), was temporarily closed for all types of vehicles.
Bishop Jose Rapadas III presided over the Holy Mass at 7 a.m., followed by the religious ritual of the “Pagpakanaug.”
Six strong devotees in red overalls and face masks carried the statue down from the pedestal to the platform surrounded with nine big candles, flowers with a Bible below and was cordoned off with red cord attached to silver posts.
For the bishop, “lowering down of the image of St. Michael the Archangel from its usual place to the frontage of the altar symbolizes humility.”
He said the Diocese of Iligan will start its nine-day Novena in honor of St. Michael at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Among those in the crowd was Lourdes Alivio, 59, of Barangay Hinaplanon, who carried her 18-year-old images of San Miguel and Santo Niño. “They are the source of our strength, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in the vernacular.
Alivio is still to be vaccinated next week. (Richel V. Umel / MindaNews)