In the midst of the difficulties and threat of a violent eruption of Taal, some of the displaced residents continue to dance and bring their wooden images of the Santo Niño during the feast day of the Santo Niño last Sunday. Near a box of coins and bills, the cute little image of the Santo Niño stands on a small altar in a passenger jeepney amidst weary passengers going home from work. In spite of the challenges on marriage and family, the image of the Santo Niño holds a very special place in the homes of Filipinos. Aside from the kingly image of the Santo Niño de Cebu, there are also other depictions of the Santo Niño in the Philippines. There is a Santo Niño portrayed as a doctor amidst the many children and adults who are suffering from sickness. Others portray the Santo Niño as a policeman in a society where controversies of ninja cops and phone grabbing general are present. These are just a few scenes that show to us that our God in the image of the Santo Niño is a God who is with us in the midst of the many challenges that we face as a nation.
Through the dark and golden ages of our history, the Santo Niño has always been with our people. He is the Emmanuel, the God who is with us (Mt. 1:23). In fact, the history of Christianity in our country has been intimately intertwined with the veneration of the Santo Niño. History and the numerous tales of our people show that the Santo Niño has continued to be with us through thick and thin.
The arrival of the image of the Santo Niño to our shores in 1521 cast the first streaks of dawn of Christianity upon the shadows of the pagan worship of our forefathers. Through the image of the Santo Niño, we were introduces to the true God of Christianity who became a child because of His great love for us. His immense beauty and majesty in the image of the Santo Niño moved the heart of Queen Juana of Cebu to embrace Christianity. As a translation of Pigafetta’s chronicle says, “She was shown an image of our Lady, a very beautiful wooden Child Jesus, and a Cross. Thereupon, she was overcome with contrition and asked for baptism amid her tears…(later)… she asked to giver he the litte Child Jesus to keep in place of her idols and she went away.” From this account, this “first spiritual miracle of the Holy Infant (Boza),” the seed of devotion that was planted continued to spread and penetrate into the soil of the hearts and minds of every Filipino.
We have experienced how the Santo Niño manifests the saving power of God in the many blessings and miracles that He bestowed upon the Filipino since His providential arrival in our country. Even during the finding of the troops of Legazpi until the present, many stories of miraculous wonders have already been attributed to the workings of the Santo Niño. These stories concern health restored after illness, easy deliver in childbirth, defense against an impending attack by invaders, protection from fire and disease, rain and good harvest after a long drought (Tenazas). And who could forget the 1986 EDSA Revolution? It was a glorious moment in history where we showed to the world our great faith and unity as a people. Instead of guns and swords, we carried our faith to the Santo Niño Mary His mother in facing the tanks and possible genocide. Fr. Benigno Beltran recounts, “They stormed the gates of heaven with their prayers and brought images of the Child Jesus and of his Mother as they manned the barricades and waited for the tanks and the assault troops to attack.” Hence, it may also be proper to say the it was not just the courage of the people but also their faith that made EDSA Revolution possible. Until today, the saving power of God continues to be written in the pages of our history as we continue to hold on to our faith and devotion to the Santo Niño.
Indeed through the ages, the Santo Niño continues to be with us in times of distress and persecutions. This tells us that our God in the image of the Santo Niño is not just another image of a cute baby that every Filipino loves to cuddle and adore. He is the true God who by His great love walks with His people even in the midst of poverty and oppression. And just as God saves us, our devotion to God also commands us to share in this saving action of God in helping our neighbors particularly the marginalized. Devotion without justice is dead. Our great prophets in the Old Testament can attest to this. Thus, our religious practice of touching and kissing the image of the Santo Niño should also move us to touch the needs of other people who are images of God. As we adorn our images with flowers, we are also called to adorn our neighbor with the fragrance of our love and care. They are the Santo Niños in flesh and blood who calls us to practice our devotion in showing our care and help to them. “Faith,” our bishops says, “is to be lived, not only thought about. It is a spirituality that has to be integrated with our history so that it may be reformed.” In the midst of the challenges of our society today, our God has never failed to be with us in the image of the Santo Niño. May we respond to be God’s never failing presence to others as well.