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After the Cross planted on a hill in Limasawa in 1521, the Santo Niño de Cebu (Holy Child) was the second Christian religious symbol mentioned in the history of the Philippines. It was a gift to the wife of the tribal king of Cebu after her baptism.


When Magellan died and his fleet retreated, the image was left in the hands of the new converts who reverted to the practice of their traditional religion for want of a missionary to guide them. The Santo Niño became one idol among other primitive idols on the altar of the natives, although it was said that the image was accorded more honor because they discovered that when they prayed to it for rain, the rains did come.


The next wave of explorers discovered the Santo Niño in the only house that was left by natives unburned. They recovered it and realized that it was the European image that preceded them to the islands. They built the first church in Cebu in honor of the Christ Child. They founded the first city that was named for Jesus. The systematic proclamation of the Gospel thus started and spread throughout the whole land.


The Santo Niño is a symbol of both worlds. The image came from the West, from Flanders in Europe, and spiritually guided the first explorers to our shores. But the subsequent devotion around it arose in the East, in the islands of Asia. The native Filipinos showed their worship by song and dance, by shouting and crying out, by revelry and solemnity. Catholicism from the masses started with the devotion to the mysterious Child who joined the pantheon of other native idols but later on emerged victoriously standing alone when the idols one by one disappeared and Christianity took hold of people’s hearts.


This Child is the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Lord of the Philippines. His silent first arrival in the country prepared for his decisive arrival into the hearts and minds through the efforts of the early Spanish missionaries. With the Santo Niño, the Philippines started to become a nation, and no more a collection of islands and tribes.


We celebrate this year 500 years since these events took place. We look with gratitude to God’s divine hand in granting us the gift of faith that the Holy Child symbolized. We look to him today for the wholistic salvation of our souls from sin and death, and of our country from poverty, corruption and greed. We look forward with him serving him as instruments of the Gospel to our neighbors and to other peoples around the world.


Jesus invites us to treasure the child and to allow him to come to him (Mk 10). In our history, it was a Child who became Incarnate in the culture of our forebears and identified himself with us. He embraced us and we embraced him in return. For 500 years we see the great power of God in the love and care of this Holy Child who is our brother, a brother among his sisters and brothers.


Please share with a friend… Happy Fiesta of the Santo Niño to all!