7th Annual Santo Niño Fiesta Celebration

The Holy Mass for the 7th Annual Santo Niño Fiesta celebration will be held on Saturday, January 14, 11 AM at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. Father Ed Dura, Associate Vicar at St. Augustine Catholic Church in South San Francisco, will be the principal celebrant. The Santo Niño or the Holy Child Jesus symbolizes the birth of Christianity in the Philippines when Ferdinand Magellan presented the statue of Santo Niño as a gift to Queen Juana in 1521. The queen was moved to tears that she willingly asked to be baptized, together with her subjects and other natives.

Community leaders and parishioners across the Archdiocese, are invited to attend the celebration, and are encouraged to bring their own Santo Niño statue for special blessing after the Mass. The liturgical music during the Mass will be provided by the Filipino Ministry Choir. There will be “Sinulog dancing” before the Mass. Reception and fellowship in the Cathedral’s Patrons Hall will immediately follow after the Mass.

Historical Background of the Devotion to Santo Niño

When Magellan and his crew discovered the string of islands on the Pacific Ocean in 1521, they planted the sword and the Cross to symbolize their conquest of the islands for the Spanish throne and their mission to convert the natives to the Catholic faith. Out of fear and in obedience, King Humabon, the ruler of the island of Cebu, submitted to the orders of the Spanish invaders. He, together with 500 of his subjects, were baptized by a missionary. Later, Magellan presented a statue of Santo Niño as a gift to Queen Juana who was so moved to tears upon receiving the gift and she willingly asked to be baptized along with her ladies-in-waiting and other natives.

The natives of the neighboring island of Mactan, however, were not as quick to accept the foreign invaders and the Catholic faith. The ruler, Lapu-Lapu, challenged the Spanish colonizers to a battle where Magellan was killed. Rejoicing over their victory, the natives of Mactan destroyed everything that symbolized the invaders and their faith.

In contrast, the natives of Cebu were very sad and disappointed at the outcome of the battle. In their disappointment, they, too, destroyed all symbols of the Catholic faith, including the statue of Santo Niño that was given to Queen Juana before her baptism. When the statue did not burn, the natives tried to chop it. After the statue survived the ax, it disappeared and remained hidden for 44 years. It was about this time that another Spanish expedition arrived in Cebu under the leadership of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. This time, the natives of Cebu fought them. During the encounter, a fire of an unknown origin broke out, destroying the town almost completely. The houses that survived the fire were searched but nothing of value was found, except a statue of Santo Niño dressed in velvet with a red cap on his head. Two fingers of his right hand were raised and extended as in a blessing, while his left hand held a globe. This was the same statue that the people tried to burn and destroy after the defeat of Magellan in the Battle of Mactan. This statue was presented to the governor-general who knelt before it. Realizing the miraculous nature of the statue, Fray Urdaneta announced that the spot where the statue of Santo Nino was found to be the site of the first church to be built in the islands, dedicated to the Santo Niño. The Basilica Menor del Santo Niño de Cebu, founded by Fray Andres de Urdaneta and Fray Diego de Herrera, is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines.

After an absence of 44 years, the Child Jesus was given back to the people. Its miraculous return confirmed the natives’ belief that the statue possessed some magic and moved them to return back to their Catholic faith. This time they centered their Catholic faith in the Child Jesus and made him part of their history by naming the statue Santo Niño de Cebu. This began the devotion of the Filipino people to Santo Niño, a devotion that has become a part of the Filipino culture and tradition. 500 years after the Catholic faith was introduced in the Philippines, the religious image and statue of the Santo Niño continues to unite Filipino Catholic communities around the world. An important note: To make the celebration of the feast of Santo Niño meaningful, it should be accompanied by Catechesis for the devotions and religious cultural traditions and Scripture readings.
(Resource: “Filipino Devotions and Religiocultural Celebrations” by Noemi M. Castillo)

Click here to view the “Quincentennial Journey of Faith” video produced by the Filipino Ministry.