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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Sto. Niño of Cebu

I bet most of us grew up in a household that has an altar with the little red Sto. Niño statue. I remember how fondly my mom would look after our Sto Niño, taking care of it, as if it was the most prized religious artifact there is and it lasted from my childhood until my early adulthood. We transferred houses a couple of times, my mom went abroad and our family was forced to live apart for a while and sadly, we've forgotten about our little Sto. Niño statue.


I also thought that I've swayed from my religious upbringing, I stopped attending mass and I became unattached to some traditions and practices of devotion of my own religion. In my own words I became a "non-practicing Catholic," a person who wanders around sheepishly without regards to his own spirituality.




Nevertheless my trip earlier this month to Cebu somehow injected an "epiphany" of sorts when I visited the Sto. Niño Basilica in Cebu City, or formally known as the "Basilica Minore del Santo Niño". I admit that I went there, just because it is a landmark that everyone visits while in Cebu.



So I did go there and took photographs of the Basilica, a 16th century and one of the oldest church in the Philippines that was built on the same exact spot where a statue of the Sto. Niño was found unscathed and unmarked, preserved inside a wooden box that was believed to be the same Sto. Niño left behind by the 1521 Magellan expedition.

A brief background on the image of the Sto Niño from Wikipedia:

"In April 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of Charles I of Spain, arrived in Cebu during his voyage to find a westward route to the Indies [1]. He persuaded Rajah Humabon and his wife Hara Amihan, to pledge their allegiance with Spain. They were later baptized into the Catholic faith, taking the Christian names Carlos and Juana. Magellan gave Juana the Santo Niño as a symbol of the alliance. However, Magellan died during a dispute with tribes in Mactan Island.


The Spaniards returned to the Philippines in February 1565. Cebu was the settlement of Basque explorer Miguel López de Legazpi, who would later founded Manila. He defeated Rajah Tupas, the chieftain of Cebu and nephew of Rajah Humabon, on April 27, and occupied the villages. The Santo Niño was found by Juan Camus a soldier of López de Legazpi, relatively unscathed in a burnt-out hut. This event was quickly acknowledged as miraculous, and a church was later constructed on the area of the discovery. Today, the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is a historical and religious landmark in Cebu, with devotees forming long line up to pay their respects to the Holy Child."

Present day, it is a major pilgrimage site of devotees from all over the Philippines. Faithful Roman Catholics line up to touch and pray to the image of the child Jesus Christ. The Sto Niño is celebrated with an annual feast that is quickly followed by another popular Cebu festival, the Sinulog festival.


As I stood there listening to a mass held in Cebuano, while the words escaped me I got to think that somehow I need to change something in my life, like those people inside the Basilica lining up to touch the image of the Sto. Niño, they are obviously driven, inspired and fueled by something nobody can really explain until it consume them in a manner that they can only feel.


Towards the end of the mass, Cebuanos and other churchgoers has this practice of waving to the Sto. Niño before coming out of the Basilica. It was a gesture of simplicity but filled with love and admiration for the image of the young Jesus Christ. The young boy who would be king and afterward save humanity.





I know it's a cliche, but whatever "epiphany" that I experienced during the time I was there might as well guide me to the path I was looking for all along my entire life.


And I wonder, whatever happened to our Sto Niño? It might have been left in one of our "lipat bahay", or broken and busted and thrown in the trash or totally forgotten, the image was long gone, but years later there I was, in a place where it all started for the Sto. Niño's journey in spreading the Catholic faith in the Philippines. There I was faced to face with the image of the child Jesus Christ and just like that, I've found our long lost statue of the Sto Niño.


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