An image of the Child Jesus, or Santo Niño, which has been missing for 32 years from the Catholic parish in Malitbog town, Diocese of Maasin, is finally back home.
On November 28, parishioners and devotees welcomed the return of their iconic image of the Santo Niño de Malitbog.
“It is indeed with great joy and gratitude that we and the Diocese of Maasin … welcome back the Santo Niño de Malitbog,” said Bishop Precioso Cantillas of Maasin in a short ceremony.
The prelate likened the image’s return to the diocese of the Bible story about the finding of the Child Jesus by his parents in the temple.
“I recall this event because this is precisely what we feel here in the Diocese of Maasin, that we are so grateful to God,” said the bishop.
“We were anxiously searching for you when you were lost,” Bishop Cantillas addressed the image.
Monsignor Oscar Cadayona, vicar general of the diocese, celebrated a “welcome” Mass attended by local government officials.
“Our happiness could not be fathomed,” said the priest. “Instead of finding Jesus, He found us. He returned home to be with us,” said Monsignor Cadayona who hails from Malitbog town.
The priest said the joy of the devotees over the return of the image was evident in the tears they shed as the motorcade to town passed them by.
“From now on, we will never abandon you. We will never leave you. We will never take for granted your presence with us. Because if we forget, we will suffer the consequences,” he said.
The image of the Child Jesus was found by Manila-based antique collector Francis Ong.
Ong, who works as a marketing professional for a pharmaceutical company, said he acquired the image in November 2019 after its last owner died.
Father Roel Handaya, parish priest of Sto. Niño de Malitbog parish, thanked Ong for his generosity in returning the lost image of the parish.
The parish of Malitbog town is home to the treasured 300-year-old image that was venerated by the faithful until it went missing in the 1980s.
Father Vincent Salang, chancellor of the Diocese of Maasin, earlier told LiCAS.news that local accounts traced the Malitbog Santo Niño image to the 1720s.
It is supposedly a replica of the famous image in Cebu.
Father Salang said the “crudeness” of the image is evident of local craftsmanship.
Malitbog became a parish in April 1850. The Santo Niño image was enshrined inside the church after its construction in 1857.
In 1988, however, the statue along with some church artifacts were stolen from the parish.