Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Feast of Sto. Niño

GUIDING LIGHT - Fr. Benjamin SIM, SJ - The Freeman

We celebrate the Fiesta of Sto. Nino in the Philippines on the third Sunday of January.  People come from all over to celebrate the Sinulog with us here in Cebu.

The celebration of the Fiesta has a special significance to Cebu because of the Sto. Niño’s historical background. The coming of the Sto. Niño to Cebu marks the birth of Christianity in the Philippines. 

The original statue of Sto. Nino was given in April, 1521, by Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer to Queen Juana (Hara Amihan) as a baptismal gift.  It was a statue similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague. However, Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan later that month.

The Spaniards returned to the Philippines in February 1565. Cebu was the first stop of the Basque explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. He defeated Rajah Tupas (nephew of Humabon) on April 27, destroying the village in the process. The Sto. Niño was found relatively unscratched in a burnt dwelling. This event was quickly acknowledged as miraculous, and a church was later built on the purported site of the discovery.

Later on the Sto Niño became the means of reconciliation and peace between the Filipinos and the Spaniards under Legazpi and Urdaneta.

To this day the original statue is treasured in the Augustinian Church in Cebu City, and has escaped the bombings of the Second World War. Today the Basilica of Sto. Niño is an important historical and religious landmark of Cebu.  The Santo Niño was long considered to be the patron of Cebu. 

The Santo Niño symbolizes the whole mystery of the childhood of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church of the Philippines sets the Holy Child as an example of humility and as a celebration of the Incarnation. Many Cebuanos do not consider the Christmas Season over until the Feast of Sto. Niño.

Liturgically, we seem to be having a flashback or summary. We celebrated the mysteries of the childhood of Jesus during the Christmas Season, ending with the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

With the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we fast-tracked 30 years of his life – journeying with him in his public ministry. The Feast of the Sto. Niño brings us backto the childhood of Jesus.The love for the Sto. Niño is deeply embedded in the heart of Filipinos.  

Today you can find the little image of Sto. Niño on altars in almost every Filipino home and shop. We are celebrating the Feast of Sto. Niño today.

But it is not so much the Holy Infant of Prague that we honor, the statue with red or green cape that you see in most of our shops. 

The feast is really a celebration of the mysteries of the childhood of Jesus: his whole human life, from the Incarnation on, including his birth, circumcision, and presentation in the temple, the flight to Egypt, the event of the 12-year-old in the temple, and the hidden years in Nazareth. 

All these are directed to and unified by the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

These mysteries have to be seen as part of the whole mystery of Christ.

We profess that Jesus is truly man. Being truly human, he went through the mysteries of childhood to experience the normal process of human growth. It is the Infant Jesus whom we honor and love in the image of the Sto. Niño. Jesus has captured the human heart by becoming a lovely infant, a winsome Babe. He could have entered our world as a mighty king and conqueror, but he did not. That is not his style.

The image of the child brings home to us our utter dependence on God to whom we owe everything: life, health, gifts, and family surroundings. The image of a child is moreover one of humility, spontaneity, innocence, purity of heart. 

It is one of joy and of winsome love. Jesus knew what he was doing when he came to us as a child and let the inspired writing develop that image of him.

The Gospel of Mark tells us: “They [Jesus and his disciples] returned to Capernaum and once inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, ‘What were you discussing on the way home?’ At this they fell silent, for on the way they had been arguing about who was the most important.  So he sat down and called the Twelve around him and said, ‘If anyone wishes to rank first, he must remain the last one of all and the servant of all.’  Then he took a little child, stood him in their midst, and putting his arms around him, said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake, welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but him who sent me.’”

And again, Jesus said to them: “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mark 9:33-35)

What does the childhood of Jesus say to us today?  Certain characteristics in a child mark him as a person of the Kingdom. Among the many lovely characteristics in a child are:

1.The power to wonder.  Before he becomes de-sensitized by the world with all its computers and technology, a child is easily touched by a sense of wonder.

A child has a great sense of wonder at the mystery of creation, of life, and of the beauty of the world God has given us. He has a deeper sense of God’s grandeur and power.

2.The innocence of a child, which makes him learn and not to unlearn, to do – not to undo.  He is more open to God’s presence and revelation. A child doesn’t know how to be “plastic” and be a hypocrite in his relationship. He says what’s in his heart. With God we must always have a childlike innocence.

A child’s humility is the pattern of the Christian behavior to his parents and elders, and the dependence and trust are the pattern of the Christian’s attitude towards God, the Father of all.

To the world, greatness and success mean wealth, comfort, fame, and power. But according to Christ, the reverse is true – to be poor in spirit, to be simple, to be humble is the secret of Christian success. Being childlike was Jesus’ disarming approach, his enchanting Good News. 

The Feast of Sto. Niño invites us to dance to the tune of divine love in a simple manner of living and loving, in the spirit of Sinulog.

An anonymous author writes: “We want to give our children what we didn’t have; but let us, also, not forget to give them what we did have; our faith and love.”

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