Cebu, the Philippines, 16 January 2017 -- Batobalani sa Gugma in Filipino/Bisaya literally means “Magnet of Love”, a love that refers to love the Sto. Niño. He is a magnet of Mercy and Compassion. These words are part of the “Gozoz”, a song that is chanted in prayer that draws Filipinos throughout the centuries to their Christian faith.
In March 15, 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Visayan Peninsula of the Philippines together with missionaries to look for the Spice Islands and propagate the Christian faith. In April 7, 1521, Magellan met Raja Kulambu who introduced him to the ruler of the island of Cebu, Raja Humabon and his wife, Amihan. On April 14, 1521, the explorers presented three gifts to Humabon: a cross, an image of Mary and the Sto. Niño (de Cebu) as part of their baptism to Catholicism which was also a strategic alliance for territorial claims of Spain. Humabon was later named Carlos (in honor of King Charles V of Spain) and Amihan, Juana. According to Pigafetta, the voyage’s chronicler, there were more than 500 local converts.
On April 27, 1565, another expedition arrived in the Philippines which was led by Miguel Lopez de Lagazpi. He attempted a peaceful colonization but was rejected. He burnt the coastal town destroying about 1500 homes. In the ruins of this destruction, the Spanish mariner Juan Camus found the image of the Sto. Niño in a pine box. Legend say that the survival of the statue was a sign of its miraculous powers.
The image of the Sto. Niño is the oldest surviving Catholic relic in the Philippines along with the Magellan’s cross. A church was built on the spot where the image was found by Juan Camus. It was originally made out of bamboo and mangrove palms and claims to be the oldest parish in the Philippines. It was reconstructed later, and Pope Paul VI elevated it to the status of Minor Basilica on its 400th anniversary.
In Cebu, the celebration starts with novena masses to the Sto. Niño, there will also be the “translacion” or the visit of the image to the National Shine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City and to the Our Lady of the Rule in Opon town Lapu-Lapu Island before the great fluvial parade Saturday morning before the feast. The grand procession commences in the afternoon followed by the Grand Mass at the Sto. Niño Pilgrim Center in front of the basilica.
People greet each other with “Pit Señor”, a shorthened “Sangpit Señor” which means “Call on the Señor.” It is the spirit to call on the Sto. Niño to call on the Holy Child for their petitions. People dance to the Sinulog music of the original two steps forward, one step backward, to acclaim their petitions with chants “Pit Señor”.
Since the feast is a national celebration big celebration are held around the Philippines. Another big celebration is in the capital, Manila. Their own big version of the celebration to honor the Santo Niño takes place at the busy district of Tondo in Manila, of the biggest settlements in the 1500’s. The Church was was established by the Augustinian Order. The church houses an image of the Infant Jesus which originally came from Acapulco, Mexico and was handed over by a wealthy merchant to the Archbishop of Manila at that time, who later turned it over to the parish priest. Since 1572, the image of Santo Niño has been enshrined in this church which is also considered as one of the most visited Churches in the Philippines.
The Philippines is a country who loves children and this could be a big reason why the devotion to the Sto. Niño is close to the heart of every Catholic. The liturgy of the solemnity expresses invites the Filipino Catholics to be like little children, imitate the Sto. Niño, in order to enter the kingdom of God.
The celebration of the World Youth Day in 1995 where St. John Paul the II, and the Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis in 2015 coincided with the feast of the Sto. Niño. Both pontific highlighted the importance of the devotion to Sto. Niño in the Christian life of every Filipino, to imitate and call on the Sto. Niño.
The Philippines will celebrate their 500 years of Catholic faith come 2021. The Catholic Bishops conference has prepared a 9-year program to prepare of this great Jubilee. The Philippines is the biggest Catholic nation in Asia and is considered as a bastion of faith not only to the ASEAN region but to the world.
Viva! Pit Señor!
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