The feast of Sto. Niño

GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - January 16, 2016 - 9:00am

We celebrate the Fiesta of Santo Niño in the Philippines

on the third Sunday of January. In Cebu, people come from all over

to celebrate the Sinulog. The celebration of the Santo Niño

has a special significance in Cebu because of its historical background.

In Cebu marks the birth of Christianity in the Philippines.

The original statue of Santo Niño was given in April 1521 by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan as baptismal gift to Queen Juana (Hara Amihan, wife of native chieftain Humabon) upon her conversion to Christianity. It was a statue similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague.

However, Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan later that month. Another contingent of Spaniards came to the Philippines in February 1565.  Cebu was the first stop of the Basque explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who defeated the nephew of Humabon, Rajah Tupas, in a battle on April 27 that left the entire village destroyed.

The Santo Niño was found practically unscathed among the remains of a house gutted down by fire. People quickly acknowledged the incident as miraculous, and a church was later built on the purported site of the image’s discovery. Later on the Santo 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. It has survived several bombings during the Second World War. The Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, where the statue is kept, has since become an important historical and religious landmark of Cebu.  The Santo Niño has long been 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 looks up 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 Santo Niño or Fiesta Señor.

Liturgically, we seem to be having a flashback or summary. We celebrated the mystery of the childhood of Jesus during the Christmas Season, ending with the Feast of the Epiphany. With the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we fast-tracked 30 years of his life – journeying with him in his public ministry.  The feast of the Santo Niño brings us back to the childhood of Jesus.

Love for the Santo Niño is deeply embedded in the heart of Filipinos. Today there’s the little image of the Santo Niño on altars in almost every Filipino home and shop.

We are celebrating the Feast of Santo Niño today. But it is not so much the Holy Infant of Prague that we honor, the statue with red or green cape that is seen 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 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 Santo Niño.  Jesus has captured the human heart by becoming a lovely infant, a winsome Baby.

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 endearing 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 [among them].  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? Every baby, every child, born into this world is a Santo Niño, for every human being is formed into the image and likeness of God. And yet there are people and governments that would exterminate them like what Herod did with the Holy Innocents, because they were perceived to be a threat.

Even worse, Santo Niños are being killed and aborted before they are born – with the blessing of some government officials. They are deprived of a chance to live. Do we see the Christ-Child in each of the babies, in the unborn?

If we truly love Santo Niño, we must learn to love and respect every child, born and unborn.  For they are the image and likeness of the Santo Niño, the Infant Jesus!

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