Catholics in the central Philippine province of Iloilo lit 6,000 candles to form an image of the “Santo Nino” on Jan. 18 as part of a festival dubbed “Dinagyang” to honor the Child Jesus.
Dinagyang, which means revelry in the native language, is one of the major religious festivals in the country to honor the baby Jesus.
It marks the arrival of the replica of the image of the Child Jesus in 1968 from the neighboring province of Cebu to Iloilo and how it was welcomed by the people.
To this day, the Catholic Church is still on a mission to “emphasize” the religious significance of the festival, which started out as a merrymaking.
People used to dance in the streets to the beat of the drums while carrying their own image of the Child Jesus during its annual feast every third Sunday of January.
“Everywhere you go in the Philippines, there are devotees who need guidance in terms of deepening their devotion,” said Augustinian priest Raymundo Alcayaga of the San Jose parish church.
It was in Father Alcayaga’s parish where the image of the Santo Nino from Cebu was brought for a visit 52 years ago.
The priest said there was notable growth in the number of people attending Masses in recent years with the growing devotion to the Child Jesus.
But he said “more have to be done because it is the responsibility of the Church to see to it that the religious element is not overpowered by the extravagant merry making.”
This year, the parish held the candle-lighting ceremony as part of efforts to create more venues where people can feel the need to pray to the Santo Niño and His importance to the festival.
The activity called “Kasanag Niño,” a play on the phrase “Kasanag Ninyo,” which means “You are light.”
“By doing this, we are recognizing that indeed Jesus is the light of our lives,” said Father Alcayaga.
Devotees who attended the ceremony came from all walks of life and brought along their children and stories of the “miracles” they experienced because of their devotion.
“I have four daughters already, but my husband and I really wanted to have a son,” said Rose Mallorca, a devotee of the Child Jesus for 35 years.
She said she got pregnant after she danced during a festival in honor of the Santo Nino to ask for a son eight years ago. “I got pregnant. I got what I have been asking for 10 years,” said Mallorca.
Maricar Astorga, 59, said she treats her image of the Child Niño as her own child.
“I was a mean woman before and the Santo Niño gave me the wisdom to change,” she said. “I wanted to change because I want to continue serving Him, taking care of His image,” said Astorga.
The woman said the Santo Niño has never failed her. “He always gives what I ask for, except for one — winning the lotto. Then maybe it’s not good for my soul,” she said in jest.
Astorga shared how, as the caretaker of the image in the parish, she can sense if the Child Jesus is pleased or not.
“That’s the essence of building a relationship with Him. I can see something in his face that would mean something to me, and you’d also probably see something in him that I cannot see,” she said.
Father Alcayaga explained the fondness of people for the Child Jesus. “The image of the child is so endearing and so easy to approach, so it’s not intimidating,” he said.
“You would feel so comfortable coming to Baby Jesus,” he added.
Every year since 1968, the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu in San Jose Parish is flown to Cebu from Iloilo for a change of vestment before the festival.
As the image would occupy a seat on the plane, the airline would require a passenger’s name for the ticket.
The image has since been named “Mr. Niño de San Jose,” 52 years old, with a birth date of Dec. 17, 1967.
The Santo Niño de Cebu is a title of the Child Jesus associated with a religious image of the Christ Child widely venerated as miraculous by Filipino Catholics.
It is supposed to be the oldest Christian artefact in the country, a gift from Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the queen of Cebu after her baptism in 1521.
Pope St. Paul VI granted a Canonical Coronation of the statue on April 28, 1965, and later raised its shrine to the status of Minor Basilica on May 2, 1965, to mark the fourth centenary of Christianity in the Philippines.