Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Matthew 19: 14
The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus) this coming Sunday, is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. The image of Sto. Niño is an image of Jesus as a small boy. The image, however, shows some contrasting elements. The image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. This enigmatic element of the image may perhaps be one of the reasons for the belief of many Filipinos that the Sto. Niño is their protector and has the power to grant and answer their prayers.
The image of Sto. Niño reminds us of the children in our midst. The children, indeed, both symbolize innocence and dependence as well as challenge us, especially the adults, to learn and return to childlike values like humility, wonder and joy.
The Baclaran shrine is a haven for children. It is always a wonderful sight at the shrine when parents bring their children and pray the novena and attend the Eucharist as one family. After the novena and mass, a lot of children at the shrine’s surroundings, play, relax and hang around with their parents and siblings. Others sit under the trees and have a picnic.
The shrine through these years saw the need for an organized program for the children. This implied establishing physical centers to serve the needs of children. One of these centers is the Sarnelli Center for Street Children. It is a center born out of the need to help the children who were wandering day and night in the streets of Baclaran. Established in 1995, the center cater to the needs – both spiritual and material of the most abandoned street children around the shrine. The goal of Sarnelli Center is to help the street children readjust and undertake a process of rehabilitation and development and eventually become responsible members of their families and their communities.
Another center that the shrine established for children is the Kuya George Children’s Center which serves as the center for all the children volunteers in the shrine, all the children beneficiaries of the programs and services of the shrine’s children ministry and the children in the mission area around the shrine. It is named after Fr. George Tither, an indefatigable missionary who loves children. The Vice-Province has just recently initiated moves to pursue his case for beatification.
The shrine has also formed a Children’s Committee to organize and coordinate programs and activities for children. The committee is composed of a Missionaries of Perpetual Help (MPS) sister, volunteer catechists and children ministers. They meet regularly to plan, monitor and supervise the whole children’s ministry in the shrine.
On top of the list of the various programs for the children in the shrine is the children’s mass. This is scheduled at 2:30 PM every Sunday. The shrine encouraged devotees to bring their children especially in this mass. All the lay ministers in this mass are mostly children like the lectors, altar servers and choir. Near the end of the mass, there is a blessing for all children.
The second major program for children at the shrine is the children’s catechesis. The volunteer catechists conduct children’s catechesis before the 2:30 children’s mass every Sunday. To train the catechists, the shrine sponsored the formal education of the catechists. In return, the catechists voluntarily teach the catechism and help facilitate other activities for children.
Another major program is the Children’s Month which is held in October each year. The whole month is filled with special activities for children. The highlight of this month is the All Saints Day where the children dress in costumes depicting the many famous saints of the church.