Devotees pray to Santo Niño for health, Duterte 'wisdom'

MANILA, Philippines – Devotees of the Santo Niño prayed for health and "wisdom" for President Rodrigo Duterte, among other intentions, as the Philippines marked the Feast of the Infant Jesus on Sunday, January 21.

Catholics flocked to the church of Santo Niño de Tondo in Tondo, Manila, to attend Mass and to have their Santo Niño images blessed on Sunday.

It was, in fact, raining holy water from a balcony of the side of the church, as priests and their assistants sprinkled huge amounts of it to bless the Santo Niño images below.  

FIESTA RITUAL. Priests and their assistants sprinkle holy water on Santo Niu00f1o images during the Feast of the Santo Niu00f1o on January 21, 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

FIESTA RITUAL. Priests and their assistants sprinkle holy water on Santo Niu00f1o images during the Feast of the Santo Niu00f1o on January 21, 2018.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

In the Philippines, the Santo Niño is special because it is, in the words of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, "the oldest image and also the oldest symbol of the Christian faith" in the country. 

The Philippines' first Santo Niño image was given as a baptismal gift by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the queen of Cebu in 1521, when Magellan discovered the country. 

It symbolized the start of Christianity in the Philippines, and is now one of the country's most popular devotions. The 3rd Sunday of January is the Santo Niño fiesta each year.

OUTPOURING OF BLESSINGS. Devotees get drenched in holy water as they have their Santo Niu00f1o images blessed outside the Santo Niu00f1o de Tondo Church in Manila on January 21, 2018. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

OUTPOURING OF BLESSINGS. Devotees get drenched in holy water as they have their Santo Niu00f1o images blessed outside the Santo Niu00f1o de Tondo Church in Manila on January 21, 2018.

Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

Prayers vs 'age of deception'

During this year's fiesta, one of those who had their Santo Niño images blessed was 55-year-old Selfa Salido. 

Salido said she has been attending the Santo Niño fiesta for the past 3 decades, after her child was healed of an illness with the help of the Santo Niño.

Salido said she is now praying for peace in the Philippine government and "wisdom" for Duterte. She said the President also needs to focus on faith. 

She explained: "Kasi kahit anong talino ng tao, kahit anong galing ng gobyerno, kung ang namumuno ay hindi inspired by the power of the Holy Spirit, sayang." (Because no matter how intelligent a person is, no matter how good a government is, if the leader is not inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is just a waste.)

She added that the world is now in the "age of deception," so people need to focus on the Lord. 

POPULAR DEVOTION. The Santo Niu00f1o is the oldest symbol of the Christian faith in the Philippines, says Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

POPULAR DEVOTION. The Santo Niu00f1o is the oldest symbol of the Christian faith in the Philippines, says Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Dess Lim, who lives in Quezon City, said she has been attending the Santo Niño fiesta for the past 5 decades.

Lim brought a life-sized Santo Niño statue with her to be blessed at the Tondo church on Sunday. She inherited the statue from her mom.

Asked what she is praying for this year, Lim said in a mix of English and Filipino, "I hope our children will always be safe and in good health."

'Maging bata muli'

Aside from the Masses in the Tondo parish, the Santo Niño fiesta was celebrated also in Cebu and in other parts of the Philippines.

Tagle, for one, led the 6 pm fiesta Mass at Greenbelt Chapel, whose patron is the Santo Niño as well.

In his homily, Tagle said the Santo Niño shows the need to stay like a child in need of God's protection. 

"Maging bata muli (Be a child again)," Tagle said.

Tagle stressed the Gospel reading that said the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the disposition of children. 

"They are the ones in need of a king, of a provider, not like the other kings who will not provide but steal, not like the other kings who will promote their own interests rather than the interests of the helpless," the cardinal added.

BLESSING CHILDREN. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle blesses children during the 6 pm Mass at Greenbelt Chapel on the Feast of the Santo Niu00f1o on January 21, 2018. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

BLESSING CHILDREN. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle blesses children during the 6 pm Mass at Greenbelt Chapel on the Feast of the Santo Niu00f1o on January 21, 2018.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Tagle advised his flock to abandon illusions that they can do everything, and no longer need the Lord. 

"Tayo po minsan, nabubuhay tayo doon sa kayamanan, 'yung pag-iilusyon na wala na tayong kailangan, Diyos man o kapwa, basta ako. Kanya-kanya na tayong kaharian, kanya-kanya nang kareynahan, at lalo namang sumasama ang mundo," he said.

(Sometimes, we live in riches, and the illusions that we no longer need anything else – not God, not our neighbor, just myself. We get to have our own kingdoms, and the world becomes more evil.)

At the same time, he challenged Catholics to lead others, like children, to God.

"Saan mo inaakay lalo ang mga walang wala? Saan natin inaakay ang mga kapos na kapos? Sana akayin natin kay Hesus at sa kabutihan," he said. 

(Where do we lead those who have nothing in life? Where do we lead those really in need? I hope we bring them to Jesus and to goodness.)

Father Bobby dela Cruz, a resident priest at Santo Niño de Tondo Church, stressed that the Santo Niño also shows the need to tend to the poor and helpless.

"Pangmasa ang Santo Niño eh. Kumbaga walang pag-aalinlangan, mas madali tayong makalapit sa isang bata, kaysa sa isang makapangyarihang imahe. Ang Santo Niño ay imahen ng kababaang loob ng isang bata," Dela Cruz said.

(The Santo Niño is for the masses. Without a doubt, we find it easier to approach a child, rather than a more powerful image. The Santo Niño is the image of a child's humility.) – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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