By Christina Hermoso
“Devotion to the Santo Nino as a small fragile child must inspire us to care and help those who are in need,” a Catholic Church leader said as thousands of devotees around the country celebrate the Feast of the Santo Nino today, January 19.
“Our Santo Nino as a child is small, so fragile, and very vulnerable that it inspires us to look after Him and take care of Him. Our affection to the Santo Nino must lead us to help and heal those who are in need, those who are suffering and hurting. These times, they are our brothers and sisters in Batangas. Our devotion to the Santo Nino must inspire us to extend a hand to our suffering brothers and sisters in Batangas,” said Balanga Bishop Ruperto C. Santos.
“Our devotion to the Child Jesus must also inspire us to take good care of the least, the last and the lost in our society. To love the Santo Nino is to make the lives of children peaceful, safe, and fruitful,” he added.
Santos said, devotion to the Santo Nino must also serve as an inspiration to be obedient.
“Our Santo Nino did not remain a child. He is Jesus who lived His life in obedience to God the Father, to His foster parents Joseph and Mary. Let us live our lives in obedience to God’s teachings, in submission to God’s will, under the guidance of our parents. In spite of the natural calamities in our country, like the Santo Nino, let us always depend on God and trust in Him,” Santos said.
Meanwhile, devotees from different parts of the country will celebrate today with festive and elaborate rites that attract both local and foreign tourists.
In Metro Manila, 33 fiesta masses, which started at 3 p.m. Saturday, are being celebrated by the hour until 11 p.m. Sunday, at the Santo Nino de Tondo Parish in Manila, the center of celebrations in the metropolis. The grand procession will be held at 4 a.m. today, Sunday.
To ensure a smooth and safe procession, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has ordered the banning of vendors along the procession route.
In Pandacan, Manila, 15 masses will be celebrated Sunday at the Santo Nino Parish from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m. including a community mass at the church yard at 7 a.m. which will be marked with the dancing of the Ati-Atihan. A procession, held nightly since January 12, will be held at 6 p.m.
In Cebu City, the much anticipated ‘Sinulog’ in honor of Senor Santo Nino, the oldest festival in the archipelago, is expected to gather around a million devotees and tourists.
The heart of the “Sinulog” is the locals’ centuries-old devotion to the Holy Child, whose miraculous image is greeted with cries of “Viva Senor Santo Nino!” “Hail to the Child King!” and “Pit Senor!” from the phrase “Sangpit sa Senyor” (Call to Senor).
The Cebuanos’ devotion to the Child Jesus has deep historical roots. The image of the Holy Child was brought to the country by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on April 14, 1521 as a gift to Queen Juana of Cebu, who was reportedly moved to tears after she saw the 15-inch tall wooden statue of the Santo Nino. She allowed herself to be baptized as a Christian, along with her husband Rajah Humabon and more than 800 natives.
After Magellan was killed by Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan, not much was heard about the image, except that the Cebuanos worshipped the Santo Nino as a rain god.
In 1565, when Spanish conqueror Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu, a Spanish soldier, Juan Camus, found the image inside the house of a native. His house was razed by a fire that miraculously spared the holy image. Legazpi then named Cebu as the City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Today, the image now known as Santo Nino de Cebu, is considered as the oldest Christian relic in the country. It is enshrined and venerated at the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, the oldest church in the country.
Largely a religious celebration and a thanksgiving festival, the street dancing that we know today had its beginnings with the traditional “sinulog,” a prayer dance that was offered to the Holy Child on its feast day every third Sunday of January.
Then a small celebration within the vicinity of the basilica, the carnival-like celebration soon became a major tourist event in Cebu.
In 2021, the Church is set to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the country.
Other festive and colorful celebrations in honor of the Holy Child include Kalibo’s “Ati-Atihan” Festival where participants dress themselves in native Ati tribal garments, their faces smeared with ashes; Romblon’s, Biniray Festival; Cagayan de Oro City’s, Pachada Senor; Butuan City’s, Kahimunan Festival; Antique’s Binirayan and Handugan Festivals; Iloilo City’s, Dinagyang Festival; and Pagadian City’s Zambulawan” Festival.
In Maypajo, Caloocan City, a procession of the different images of the Holy Child and street dancing will serve as the highlight of the “Pajotan de Sto.Nino” Festival.
In Pasig City, the Bambino Festival in honor of the Child Jesus will be celebrated with a mass and a procession. Celebrations will also be held in Malolos, Bulacan; Laoag City, Ilocos Norte; Binalonan, Pangasinan; and in several other cities and provinces.
After each Eucharistic celebration, children are traditionally blessed by priests in observance of the feast as well as to highlight the observance of the month of January as the Month of the Child Jesus.