By Rey Anthony Chiu, PIA-Bohol | 06:22 PM May 16, 2020
It would have been lavish: fireworks explode in the early evening sky, the cacophony of videoke and the unmistakable woof from the loudspeakers sending shivers to the church’s metal trusses, and as the procession winds back to the town plaza, the patron santo soon to be taken off the pedestal back to the altar.
The smell of burnt candles, incense and fresh flowers in the puerta mayor would be overpowering but in a few minutes, the smell of grilled pork belly, or some neighbors’ cooking would assault the senses in horde of believers wielding candles and dressed for the thanks giving.
Streamers and banners strung across the streets convey the festive fever. A green and white SMART giant lighted air balloon occupies a prominent space in the plaza, announcing a street dancing festival on the feast day, and amidst the raucous of the nearby feria, throbs of distant drums on street-dance rehearsals and the blare of trumpets and bugles betray the degree of preparations everyone keeps to add more fun in the feast day of thanks-giving.
Everywhere would have been pandemonium: classmates from a school batch long time ago, shake hands, hug and exchange contact numbers.
In the loft, the choir ends the joyous song with a hail of applause and the invitations for dinner gets cast and thrown to just anyone.
Not this time.
Shared and made viral on social media is the provincial government’s anti-coronavirus disease (COVID) policy banning mass gatherings, drinking in public, and lavish spending in a time of great tribulation with many getting hungry from work stoppages.
This is fiesta sa Mayo sa Bohol in the COViD era.
There are no fireworks that light the sky, the caro bearing the patron winds the procession route somber, with only a few cars and motorcycles in tow, back to the church’s puerta mayor.
No live brass bands fill the air with solemn hymns and lively marches after the procession: only a piped in hymn from a public address borne by the caro betrays the holy rite.
In fact, the caro, unlike the usually elegantly lavish and brightly lit with a pompous image in a pedestal festooned with fresh flowers; this one was simple table set at the back of a pick-up truck.
In the few cars joining the procession are few people, motorcycles with solo riders, all in facemasks, some even sporting not the rosary or some scapular, but oversized ID cards and home quarantine passes.
Along the procession route, houses still light candles by the roadside, others open up windows so the kids with candles could watch the holy procession.
The millennials, gadget wielding, have their mobiles documenting and updating their favorite social media platforms, thanks to stronger internet connectivity.
“We could not imagine how we would have known and shared the information without an access to the internet,” a church lay minister, who misses the church services since two months now, shared.
“Or, text for that matter,” he added.
Information like COVID-19 prevention, contact tracing, updates by the National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Council, National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Health, all messages get to us through the SMART infocast, he added.
By tradition, and with the faithful clearly missing the practice of devotion, few devotees kneel by the roadsides as the procession passes, their home urna images placed in decorated altareses strewn along the route.
Some few more shower and cast flower petals, like angels, as the procession progresses.
Earlier, the parish bulletin on the Parish Social media Page announced the procession route, the post alone generated over a hundred shares and comments bearing well wishes, devotional prayers heartwarming greetings from stranded town-mates, unable to come home due to the lockdowns.
As processions then were also venues for small talk, this time it’s the mobile phones taking over, making sure those marooned in some distant lands also experience the fiesta, now on social media.
Following social distancing directives and ban on mass gatherings, even churches have to close.
But the masses, now missa sine populo (private masses) continue daily.
Processions are still done, image not anymore borne by the shoulders of believers. It is set on a pick-up truck winding through the town’s thoroughfares, and on streets not in the traditional processional route.
Bohol Executive Order Nos. 14 through 18 puts in place measures like mandatory use of face masks outside homes, mandatory curfew for minors and elderly, province-wide curfew and liquor ban, including travel bans for all inbound passengers, basic hygiene and social distancing.
Here, churches has posted a new norm for the Fiesta Month: simple and yet different, far from the notoriously lavish banquets most Boholanos and tourists relish.
Dioceses of Tagbilaran Bishop Alberto Uy and Talibon Bishop Patrick Daniel Parcon issued a joint pastoral letter “On Celebrating Fiestas,” in times of the health crisis.
The celebrations should be devoid of lavish banquets that outshine the reality of the religious foundations of the celebrations, the church hinted.
Instead of overflowing churches in the fiesta mass, only the parish priest and vicar along with few servers attend.
For the faithful, bishops urged priests to broadcast the church activities, from the novena up to the Fiesta proper, mount exterior speakers in churches and chapels so the faithful can also participate from their homes.
In homes, families face the laptop broadcasting the mass.
As celebration is streamed online, parishioners listen to radios or turn to online boradcasts and watch parties as the pastoral letter directed.
Where streets were usually flowing with fiesta revelers, now, streets are eerily empty.
Parishioners light candles in front of their houses, while maintaining silence and praying as the image of the patron passes by.
After the procession, silence takes over, the disco loudspeakers in pre-COVID times practically silent.
On facebook, the Hermana Mayor, whose family is in-charge in safekeeping the santo, posts: “Thanks to those who lit candles on the roadsides during the procession, and those who offered flowers for the procession. Online fiesta mass is set at 9:00 AM.
When people line up for food, the church sees spending profusely in time of need would seem inappropriate.
Divorcing from the tradition of an overflowing fiesta table might be tough, a fare for the family however is never out of order. Lechon, seafoods array, a side table for sweet desserts and pastries, along with native kakanins maight still be there.
But, church officials discouraged families from inviting guests when everyone is always treated as a transmission suspect. That same message has been sent countless times on text and facebook bulletins in a country acclaimed as the texting capital of the world.
Fiesta are times for family reunions. Now teens take to group chats, or scroll to a watch party, hovering mobile phones over food, faces, the house and its new addition, like any Boholano would show.
For households who have more, church calls for sharing food to poor neighbors and hungry brethren.
Packed cooked food, or raw, is brought to a neighbors house, completing the bring house tradition.
Fiestas here are essentially connecting, urging people to live and live life more fully.
And thanks to an ever increasing high speed internet connectivity and almost borderless access to digital services, the Boholanos have leveled the tables: if they’d miss the physical banquet and the warm presence of family, friends and kin over overflowing food and drinks, the dazzling options for the virtual communication menu offer little comforts to get connected.
As they said, in an ever-changing world, digital communication platforms have led Boholanos to adapt to a bold, new future.