Cebu News

The Lost Niño

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — The image stands 22 inches and is carved entirely from coconut lumber. Unlike the more familiar versions, this one is devoid of the red or green garb or any embellishment. Because of its washed out brown color, it doesn’t attract a second glance and doesn't look anything special.

Not to residents of Poro town in Camotes Island in northern Cebu. For the longest time, this unassuming image of the Santo Niño was what has been missing in their own version of the Sinulog.

It is said that the image ended up in Cebu City in 1965 during a cultural exhibit of the National Museum to commemorate the Quadricentennial of the Christianization of the Philippines.

With the help of the provincial government, the event brought together holy images from parishes in the different local government units to Cebu Normal School, now Cebu Normal University.

The Sto. Niño Parish in Poro sent the wooden image to the event but after the exhibit in Cebu City, the images were brought to Manila.

Upon returning to Cebu, the wooden image was not returned to Poro until it was donated to Saint Theresa’s College (STC).

Taking shelter

Since 1965, STC became the new home of the “Sto. Niño de Poro”.

According to the catalogue at the Sr. Ma. Delia Coronel Folklife Museum, the image is more than 100 years old. Registered as donor is the Poro Parish Council and registered as solicitor is one Gaudiosa Gorgonio.

The school’s museum curator, Caridad Balisacan, said they consider the image as a unique item in their collection because coconut lumber is a very rare material used for sculptures. She said it is possible that the lumber used to carve the Niño used to be a part of a house in Poro.

Upon closer look, the image has traces of faded paint, which makes Balisacan believe it may have had color before.

It was from Balisacan that Provincial Tourism Officer Joselito “Boboi” Costas learned of the Niño’s existence.

As a native of Camotes, the information sparked Costas’ curiosity naturally.

In 2017, during an interview with filmmakers about the culture of Camotes, Costas shared what he learned from Balisacan, information that the filmmakers also shared with Fr. Romeo Beroy, the parish priest of Poro.

As expected, Fr. Beroy shared Costas’ interest and curiosity, pointing out that the surname Gorgonio – in this case, the surname of Gaudiosa Gorgonio – is common in Camotes.

With his time at the 1849-built Sto. Niño Parish closing in, Fr. Beroy believed even the possibility of having the Niño back would be an achievement in itself.

On January 8, Fr. Beroy crossed the sea to Cebu City and visited STC. Speaking with Balisacan, he was enamored by the Niño’s history that he held stronger to his wish of having the image back in Poro.

Poro celebration

Fr. Beroy says that having the image for the town’s feast would mean so much to the devotees in the town.

“Lahi gyud ang pista sa Poro. Daghan kaayo ang manimba sa adlaw sa bisperas ug sa adlaw sa pista. In fact, manguli gyud gani ang mga naa sa gawas sa nasud ug naa sa syudad para pagselebrar dinhi sa isla… bahala na og makagasto sila’g dako basta makauli lang sila,” Fr. Beroy says.

He adds: “Kay para nila, instrumental gyud ang Sto. Niño nga naka-abroad sila, nakahuman sa ilang pagtuon, o nagmalampuson sila sa kinabuhi… niining mga aspetoha, ilang gi-attribute sa Sto. Niño mao nga love kaayo nila kini.”

The town celebrates its version of Sinulog every third Friday of January.

In a ritual called Patunob, the holy image of the Niño is carried by a church minister and its base is made to touch parts of a devotee’s body that needs healing. Hundreds line up for the ritual, which begins after an early morning Mass. It often lasts until nighttime.

Another ritual is the Biray Biray, a fluvial procession that takes place along the coast of the town. This is followed by Parohanons dancing in grand costumes outside the church. No price or reward awaits the dancers as the performances are offered purely as a form of devotion to the Child Jesus.

Like an answered prayer, five days before the town’s 171st feast, the directress of STC, Sr. Maria Cora Sastre, ICM, gave a nod for the image to travel north.

Led by Balisacan, a small contingent from the school brought the image to Poro.

“I find it relevant for the people of Poro to learn that the figure still exists. Technically, this belongs to them even if it was already donated but they’re the ones who have memories of the statue, especially the older generation,” Balisacan says.

The image’s interesting history, she says, is something definitely worth sharing with everyone who will visit the museum in STC.

Secured in a glass case, the image arrived in Poro yesterday and will stay in town until Saturday, January 21, the day after the town’s fiesta. This is certainly too short a time compared to when it was away, but everyone is still most thankful for after more than five decades, the lost Niño finally found its way home. (FREEMAN)

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