Stolen image of Infant Jesus returns home
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — A centuries-old image of the Infant Jesus stolen 32 years ago will be returned to a church in Malitbog, Southern Leyte.

CBCPNews, the official news service provider of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, reported that the image of the Sto. Niño, estimated to be 300 years old, would soon be returned to the Holy Child Church.

The image has reportedly been in the possession of a Manila-based antique collector since November last year.

Francis Ong said on Friday that he found an article with photos about the missing statue.

Ong said  he noticed the figure’s  “uncanny semblance” to an image in his collection.

He contacted the Diocese of Maasin in Southern Leyte with the help of his friends. He confirmed that the image in his possession was the missing icon of Malitbog town.

“There was no remorse nor regret but pure joy and happiness for not everyone is made a conduit for the recovery of such spiritual and cultural treasure,” Ong said.

He said he came into possession of the lost image in November when its previous owner passed away.

“What a privilege to be able to have in our home for a few months, such a revered and miraculous Niño,” he said.

Malitbog became a parish in April 1850 and the Sto. Niño image was enshrined in the church after its construction in 1857.

Fr. Mark Vincent Salang, the diocese’s chancellor, said that residents believe the Malitbog Sto. Niño was crafted by local artisans in the 1720s “to be a replica of the Sto. Niño de Cebu.”

The crudeness of the image’s design is evident of local craftsmanship, Salang said.

In 1988, the statue along with other church artifacts were stolen from the parish.

Salang said the image’s return would coincide with the Church’s celebration of the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.

The diocese has been preparing for the quincentennial celebration on March 31, 2021, to commemorate the First Easter Mass that happened on Limasawa Island.

It commissioned the creation of a Sto. Niño image, which will be enthroned on Limasawa Island to remind pilgrims of its connection with the image in Cebu.

The lost image, as requested by the Diocese of Maasin, has been turned over to an atelier for restoration before it will be returned to Malitbog in time for the town’s fiesta celebration on Jan. 15.

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