A devotee prays before the Sto. Niño de Paz at the Greenbelt Chapel in Makati. Photo by Edwin Galvez
MANILA -- Many devotees of the Santo Niño celebrated the feast of the Child Jesus on Sunday with both prayer and merry-making in such places as Tondo and Pandacan in Manila, Kalibo in Aklan, and the cities of Iloilo and Cebu, where colorful festivals and dances regaled huge crowds of revelers and believers.
However, for 30 years now, there is a small chapel at the center of a bustling business district that has also become a haven for devotees of the Infant Jesus in the city.
Sto. Niño de Paz-Greenbelt Chapel joined the rest of devotees in the country in honoring the Holy Child on Sunday, gathering residents from nearby villages, loyal Mass goers and the usual Sunday traffic of shoppers and visitors in prayer and celebration.
“That the Sto. Niño de Paz was set by Divine Providence to be present in the financial and business center of the Philippines has a purpose and mission,” said Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., its chaplain for close to nine years now.
While the traditional devotion and celebration still marked the chapel’s observance of the feast of the Santo Niño, he said the Divine Child offers devotees the real values of life through the celebration.
“In a setting pervaded by materialism, individualism, consumerism, excessive competition, and so many pseudo-values of the world, the Christ-child is offered to us as an invitation to spirituality, community, charity, humility, purity,” he said.
Most popular devotion
The devotion to the Santo Niño is considered the most popular among Filipino Catholics, after the first image of the Child Jesus was brought to Cebu and given as a baptismal gift to Raja Humabon’s wife by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Now the oldest and most revered religious icon in the country, the Santo Niño of Cebu enshrined at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu initiated the Christianization of Filipinos 448 years ago on April 28, 1565.
“The devotion to the Sto. Niño is peculiar to Filipino Catholics,” Father Sescon said. “That is why we have a special indult (permit) from Rome to celebrate the third Sunday of January to honor the Sto. Niño. But in the universal church, there is also devotion to the child Jesus.”
He said the devotion is officially recognized because it is “very popular, truly Filipino, and truly Catholic.”
In addition, while the Santo Niño procession in Tondo does not gather millions of people as the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, he believes the Infant Jesus has more devotees because the devotion to the Santo Niño is not concentrated in one place
“Every province or major region would have a Sto. Niño festival, shrine or center of devotion (Tondo, Pandacan, Kalibo, Romblon, Iloilo, Cebu, Tacloban, etc.) and there are many parishes dedicated to the Sto. Niño,” he said.
Indeed, the image of the Santo Niño garbed in the traditional red manto and regalia or dressed up in different kinds and styles of clothes as interpreted by their owners are found anywhere as there are devotees—in the family altars of homes, schools, offices, community stores and even inside jeepneys.
Father Sescon said the innocence, purity and humility of the Christ-child are what attract devotees to the Santo Niño.
He explained: “A baby in the family is a sign of joy and blessing. That God became a baby is a source of joy and blessing because God fulfilled His promise to save humanity. A child is never threatening. His power is in his weakness. His force is his love. For God to be powerful is expected, but for God to become a child (so helpless and small) is unexpected. The Christ-child is a testimony that God is love!”
He reminded devotees though that the reverence and adoration offered to the Santo Niño go beyond having their prayers answered.
It is meant to be a way of life, a model of discipleship, and a means to have a personal relationship with God as Father, he said.
A real Sto. Niño devotee, he added, is not just prayerful but child-like and Christ-like.
He said: “Since our devotion is also directed to Sto. Niño de Paz (Holy Child of Peace), we are also invited to be peace lovers and peacemakers. Peace is the message and gift of Sto. Niño de Paz!”