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

 

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Street Kids Given Opportunity to Choose their own Birthday

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Last September 8, we celebrated the birthday of Mary in the shrine. In that blog, I mentioned that despite the yearly celebration of Mary in Catholic churches around the world, Mary probably never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime.  The reason being that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration. Moreover, there was no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.

But how about not knowing your own birthday. Do you know that there are people who even do not know their own birthday?

In the Sarnelli Center, the shrine’s center for street children, it is not uncommon to encounter kids whom we pluck out from the streets who did not even know their own birthday.  Being thrown out of their homes voluntarily or involuntarily at a tender age when others are still enjoying their lives as toddlers, they did not know the basic facts about their own lives let alone knowing the day of their birth.

Now, it has always been a tradition in the center to have a monthly celebration for all birthday kids celebrants. Just like a typical children’s birthday party, there is a birthday cake, an ice cream and spaghetti. There are balloons and all the kids sing a hearty happy birthday before they dive into the food.

For those street kids who did not know their birthday, they were given the opportunity to choose a date for their birthday. Some chose Christmas day, other chose September 8, birthday of Mother Mary or any other day they may like. This, I guess, is the advantage of not knowing your birthday; you can choose whatever day you like as your birthday.

Despite not knowing their birthday, these kids were given the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays, only God knows, when it is. In this way, they experience the same joy of celebrating their birthday and having the same sense of dignity like any other normal kid.

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For more information about Sarnelli Center for Street Children please visit our website.  If you want to volunteer at  Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our volunteers’ page. If you want to donate to Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our donate page.

Joey Echano, CSsR