FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO: SANTO NIÑO IN THE MIDST OF CALAMITIES AND SUFFERING

sto-nino

While the rest of the Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Philippines Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). Vatican granted the Philippines Church a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January because of the Filipinos’ exuberant devotion to Santo Niño.

The celebration of the feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful expression of the wedding between the Christian faith and the Filipino culture. Santo Niño symbolizes, on the one hand, the introduction of the Christian faith to the Filipino people.  On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil, originally as a gift from explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his chief consort on account of their baptism in 1521.

The native Filipinos welcome the relic of Santo Niño and the whole Christian faith, however, according to their cultural sensibilities. The cultural appropriation of Santo Niño is beautifully expressed in the dance called Sinulog. Before the Spanish conquistadores came, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and Anitos. The natives then adapted the Sinulog as a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. Thus, Sinulog became the link between the country’s indigenous past and its Christian present.

While devotees dance the sinulog, they chant “Pit Señor.” “Pit Señor” is the short form of “Sangpit sa Señor,” a phrase in Cebuano that means, “to call, ask, and plead to the king.”  Indeed, the image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, Sto. Niño reminds us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. These enigmatic contrasting elements provide us with one of the profound reasons to believe that Sto. Niño is our protector and has the power to grant and answer our prayers as many miracles have attested.

The readings of today’s feast invites us not just to venerate the relic of Santo Niño but more importantly to imitate the ways and values of Santo Niño.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This light will be a child who will be born among them, “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The description of the child sends a strong message to the oppressors of Israel. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader.  The child will defeat machineries of oppression and rule over Israel with wisdom, peace, justice and good judgment.

In the gospel today, Jesus called a child and put the child among his disciples :

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus used the symbol of the child it has nothing to do with romanticizing the child. Jesus brought out the symbol of the child in the context of the Kingdom of God when he asked:

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Who is the child in Jesus’ society during his time whom he considered as the greatest in God’s kingdom? Who are the children that Jesus referred to? The image of child or children represents the poor, the anawim, the insignificant, powerless, the “little ones” in Jesus and the Biblical times. They have no status and position in society. Who are the children in God’s eyes today? They are the poor who continue to be poor despite the massive display of wealth by the few, they are the victims of calamities–natural and human made, they are the victims of violence and extra-judicial killings, they are the powerless who are manipulated by powerful politicians and misled by fake news and misinformation, they are the sick and the dying who have no one to care for them, they are amongst us who are desperate and have no one to turn to but fellow poor and God.

When Jesus said to turn and become like children does not mean to become a child but to become anawim, poor, to become like one who depend on no one else but God. They are the least, the humble, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoners, and the sick. They are people who need other people, and they are people who need God’s protection. They long for God to reign in their lives.

In other words, to become like little children is to become poor. We can only enter the kingdom of God if we become poor. No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God—they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

The second point that Jesus wishes to impart to us in the gospel today is that by becoming children or poor we can take the side and advance the plight of our fellow poor people. Jesus said,

 “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me … Let no one despise these little ones, these children… Whoever despises one of these little ones who depend on God. … Beware! Their angels, their guardians, will see what you have done to them and will surely protect them. After all, they depend on God’s protection.”

He reminded his disciples that whatsoever they do to the poor, they did it to him. This is reiterated by Jesus at the end of time when he will return in glory to judge the world,

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

How do we become a child of the Kingdom of God today? We become a child of the Kingdom of God today, by upholding the aspirations of the poor, powerless, marginalized, victims of injustice, intolerance and inhumanity in our own communities, parishes and the wider society. In the midst of all the calamities and miseries we experience today, the image of Santo Niño is a powerful symbol of protest against the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom of God—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.

The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity overflowing with profound spiritual meaning. It is nice to dance the Sinulog but let us make our celebration of the Santo Niño go beyond mere pageantry. May it truly transform us into children of the Kingdom of God. To become children of God is not to become childish in our faith.  To become children of God goes beyond having a zealous devotion to Santo Niño. To become children of God is to become poor and to cast our lot and struggle together with the poor, the least, the lowly and the most abandoned in our society today.

By doing so, we become the greatest in the Kingdom of God!

 

FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO: GROWING UP IN OUR FAITH

sto-nino

While the rest of the Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Philippines Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). Vatican granted the Philippines Church a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January because of the Filipinos’ exuberant devotion to Santo Niño.

The celebration of the feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful expression of the wedding between the Christian faith and the Filipino culture. Santo Niño symbolizes, on the one hand, the introduction of the Christian faith to the Filipino people.  The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil. On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The native’s cultural appropriation of Santo Niño is beautifully expressed in the dance called Sinulog. Before the Spanish conquistadores came, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and Anitos. The natives then adapted the Sinulog as a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. Thus, Sinulog became the link between the country’s indigenous past and its Christian present.

While devotees dance the sinulog, they chant “Pit Señor.” “Pit Señor” is the short form of “Sangpit sa Señor,” a phrase in Cebuano that means, “to call, ask, and plead to the king.”  Indeed, the image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, Sto. Niño reminds us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. These enigmatic contrasting elements provide us with one of the profound reasons to believe that Sto. Niño is our protector and has the power to grant and answer our prayers as many miracles have attested.

The feast of Santo Niño is a continuous celebration of God’s incarnation—God immersing himself into the life and situation of his people. The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. Jesus as a boy experienced all the joys and pains, anxieties and jubilations that every Jewish boy would have experienced during his time.

The readings of today’s feast talk about the spiritual meaning of the boyhood of Jesus.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This light will be a child who will be born among them, “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The description of the child sends a strong message to the oppressors of Israel. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader.  The child will defeat machineries of oppression and rule over Israel with wisdom, peace, justice and good judgment.

In the gospel, we hear of the story when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents–Joseph and Mary–took him on a journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. After the feast, however, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  And when they found him, he was among the learned in the temple. They did not fully understand what Jesus told them about his mission.

And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

In the Temple, the boy Jesus finds home and school: He must be in his Father’s house; he discusses with the learned. The boy Jesus was aware of his mission at an early age. He was discussing already with the experts.  The boy Jesus was obedient to the Father in heaven as well as to his parents.

What does the childhood of Jesus say to you and me today? In the childhood of Jesus we foresaw what he will become when he grows up. The child Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favor before God and people.  He never lost his childlike-attitudes but developed them to become the Messiah who came to serve, not to be served. He grew to become the bearer of good news of God’s liberation from all forms of oppression especially to the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable and rejects of society. He grew to proclaim true greatness and success beyond wealth, fame, and power, but being poor in spirit, simple, and humble. He grew up to suffer and give his life on the cross because of his great love for all humanity.

In the same way, the feast of Santo Niño calls us to grow in our own faith. While not losing our childlike-attitudes, this celebration challenges us to transform our childish attitude and faith to become mature followers of Christ. The image of Santo Niño is not someone whom we can manipulate according to our whims and caprices. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader. Our devotion to Santo Niño demands of us not just piety but radical changes in our attitudes and mindset in accordance with the gospel values that Jesus proclaimed. Our devotion to Santo Niño calls us to commit to God’s kingdom and live opposite the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.

The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity brimming with profound spiritual meaning. It is, indeed, fit and just to joyfully dance the Sinulog but the celebration of the Santo Niño goes beyond mere pageantry. To be a devotee of Santo Niño is not to become childish in our faith; it goes beyond piety and petitionary form of relationship with Santo Niño.  It calls us to grow and to change our lives to become disciples of Jesus and proclaimers of his Kingdom. It calls us to grow in maturity of our faith.

Viva, pit Señor!

Shrine of Children

children

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.

children-committee-baclaran

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.

children-mass

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.

community-based-catechetics

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.

children-baclaran