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Holy Child Inspires Filipinos In Various Ways

Updated: January 20, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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In the Philippines, the child Jesus can be a baker, carpenter, farmer, vendor and even a tramp.

"I talk to him, I tell him everything," says Luiza Reyes, owner of a statue of a sleeping "Santo Nino" (holy child). The 73-year-old retired teacher was one of millions of Catholics countrywide who celebrated the Santo Nino feast, annually the third Sunday of January.

Special Masses, religious processions and Santo Nino exhibitions are common the ways the feast is celebrated, usually preceded by a novena of Masses or special prayers held over nine days.

More than 100 people in Pasig City, just east of Manila, brought Santo Nino statues in various outfits and sizes to be blessed before the procession that followed a Jan. 18 feast day Mass.

Father Reinier Noel Llorca of Santa Clara Parish reminded them "not to worship" the statues of the Santo Nino but to "worship the living God." During the Mass, he asked devotees to emulate the virtues of the child Jesus such as "being simple and honest."

Seventy-eight statues, including Reyes´ sleeping Santo Nino, had been on display for nine days before the feast.

Josephine Inocencio, a pharmacist whose family owns 25 of the statues exhibited, told UCA News she began collecting the images 15 years ago during her trips around the country. She said she is "fascinated" at how other people "venerate" the image of the Santo Nino, and by how "cute" the statues are.

Among the statues her family displayed are the Santo Nino as a carpenter, with an apron and a tool box, and as a farmer, carved and painted to look like it is wearing the traditional "camisa de chino" shirt and holding a scythe.

Inocencio said a "big miracle" they bring is the joy, the "feeling light inside," that fills her just by looking at the statues. "You want to remember him (Jesus) as a child, full of hope, happiness, joy," she explained.

Among the various Santo Nino statues on display in Pasig were Jesus as a playful boy, a child in the womb and a Filipino in national costume. Baker, shepherd, tramp, traveler and vendor were other portrayals.

Like Inocencio, Reyes feels her collection of 13 Santo Nino statues has enriched her life, not only because of what the statues represent in themselves but because they were given to her by friends and relatives.

The images may serve to visually represent God´s presence in ordinary life, but Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu told devotees Jan. 18 that they must pursue God in their daily life. The traditional Sinulog street dance and chants to the Santo Nino on the feast day, he said, must arise out of this daily effort and not substitute for it.

He added that relations with others, particularly family members, are not separate from how people approach God. "If we forget the people whom we can see and touch, the more we will forget the God whom we cannot see or touch," he told 20,000 Catholics during the main feast day Mass at the Basilica of the Santo Nino in Cebu City, 565 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Devotion to the Santo Nino in the Philippines is traced to the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century on Cebu, a central island. The original image is recorded as a gift from Ferdinand Magellan to the queen of Cebu.

One of its countless descendants travels with Tony Inocencio, a driver in Koronadal City who keeps a ceramic Santo Nino figure glued to the dashboard of his jeepney, a small public transportation vehicle. He said he has been driving for 15 years and has not had a major accident because he "always prays for guidance from the Holy Infant Jesus." Koronadal City is some 980 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Ramon Ballares, a carpenter, has a cut-out Santo Nino picture in his living room in Koronadal. He regards the picture as a "powerful source of spiritual, emotional and physical strength." A father of three, Ballares said he has a permanent home since he began praying to the Santo Nino more than five years ago. He has collected several Santo Nino posters, some from waste cans.

Someday, he said, he will buy a Santo Nino statue. For now, he takes care of the poster he wrapped in plastic and pasted on the wall. Once he scolded his children for tearing it while they played. "Holy symbols should be given highest reverence, otherwise we will face God´s full wrath," he told UCA News.

Dominga Valera displays a wooden Santo Nino at her bakery in the city. Dressed in a red cape and wrapped in plastic, the half-meter statue has stood near the cashier´s counter for more than 10 years. The 70 year-old owner told UCA News "the Santo Nino brings in more customers" to her store and "wards off elements (that are) bad for the business."

The "Catechism for Filipino Catholics" cautions: "While responding to the Filipino´s natural love for children, the Child image of Christ can sometimes foster a one-sided focus which neglects the mature, adult Christ and the demands of responsible discipleship."


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