Updated: January 11, 2017 09:08 AM GMT
A dancer carries an image of the Child Jesus during last year's celebration of the feast of the Santo Nino in the central Philippine city of Cebu. (Photo by Joe Torres)
Philippine authorities will deploy some 8,000 security personnel during this year's celebrations of the feast of the Child Jesus, or Santo Nino, in the central Philippine city of Cebu.
Police said they have not received any threats from terrorist groups, but intelligence monitoring will continue after rumors of bomb threats started circulating in the city last November.
"People just have to be alert and vigilant," said regional police director Noli Talino. He appealed to the public to report "unusual activities and suspicious-looking people."
The Cebu City police were placed on full alert even before nine-day Masses started on Jan. 4.
Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu has called on Catholics to pray for a peaceful celebration of this year's feast on Jan 15.
"We should not be paralyzed by our fears. We cannot control the minds of the people but we have God and [let’s] trust in him," said the prelate.
Cebu Mayor Tomas Osmena urged the public to pray and to help security forces maintain peace and order.
"We ask for everybody’s cooperation," he said.
An estimated 3.5 million people attended last year's celebration, which is highlighted by a grand parade in honor of the child Jesus and a religious fluvial procession the day before.
Devotees carry an image of the Child Jesus as they dance in procession, dubbed the "Sinulog," around the city.
The feast, which is celebrated every third Sunday of January, honors the Child Jesus whose image was discovered in Cebu on April 28, 1565.
The feast of the Santo Nino is one of the most celebrated feasts in the country and has been part of the Filipino people's devotion for centuries.
Monsignor Hernando Coronel, rector of Quiapo Church in Manila, said devotion to the Black Nazarene, whose feast was celebrated on Jan. 9, and the Santo Nino is complementary.
"Christian Filipinos have a fond affinity to the Child Jesus and identify with the suffering Nazareno," said the priest.
Unlike the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, where millions of people go for its religious significance, the "Sinulog" is a weeklong religious festival similar to Mardi Gras.
Non-religious activities have been going on for a week even as thousands of people fall in line at the Santo Nino shrine to pray to the Child Jesus.
The image of the Santo Nino in Cebu is a gift of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the queen of the island during her baptism as a Catholic, thus bringing Christianity for the first time to Philippine shores in 1521.