CEBU, Philippines – How does one make a complete pilgrimage to Cebu City’s Basilica Minore del Santo Niño?
For the city’s Catholics, devotion to the Holy Child is maintained through visits to the basilica on Fridays throughout the year. On this day, priests of the Order of Saint Augustine take turns offering special Masses in honor of Jesus Christ’s divine childhood.
But whether one is a local or a visitor, the days up to and including the third Sunday of January – make it the entire month – is a time for heightened veneration of the image of the Christ-child of Cebu as king.
On these days, priests at the basilica offer up to 11 celebrations of Holy Mass every day from 4 am to 7 pm (except on days when dawn processions are held), starting January 9. A full list of religious activities related to the fiesta may be downloaded here.
Pilgrims are encouraged to join devotees in one daily Mass until fiesta day, January 19.
Before or after Mass, pilgrims may perform other devotions. At the end of the 5:30 pm and 7 pm celebrations of Mass, devotees join the traditional religious Sinulog, a dance for the Santo Niño. The dance lasts an hour on January 18, the eve of the fiesta.
Pilgrims may wave their own image of the Santo Niño in the air while dancing to worship music and echoing intercessory chants of “Pit Señor” (call on the Lord) for various prayer intentions.
Priests and lay ministers usually bless images of the Santo Niño after each novena Mass. Devotees just to hold their Christ-child images aloft near the center aisle so it may be sprinkled with holy water.
One may also venerate image of the Santo Niño enshrined in a marble chapel inside the basilica.
It was due to the centrality of the image to the flourishing of Christianity in the Philippines that the Holy See decreed that every third Sunday of the year would be a solemnity – the highest-ranking celebration on the Christian liturgical calendar – of the Santo Niño for the nation’s Catholics.
This image was a baptismal gift in 1521 to Cebu’s queen Juana from Augustinian missionaries who accompanied Portuguese navigator Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan) in the expedition to circumnavigate the world. The image was rediscovered in 1565 inside a hut in the then-village of Cebu by Juan Camus, a sailor under Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
On the way to seeing the Santo Niño, one may take a trip down memory lane through paintings hung on the walls.
The paintings on the left walls depict the history of Christianity in Cebu. Those on the right represent miracles of the Santo Niño, including apparitions of the Child Jesus at key points in Cebu’s history.
In the chapel, one may touch the glass in which the image is encased and kiss the relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, kept in a reliquary in front of the image. Meanwhile, one may mentally offer a prayer such as these excerpts from the Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus:
“Through the mystery of your holy incarnation, deliver us, O Jesus.
Through your nativity, deliver us, O Jesus.
Through your infancy, deliver us, O Jesus.”
The Santo Niño image is the iconographic representation of the name of Jesus. Cebu, the church territory in which the Santo Niño is located, is officially called Archdiocese of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Venerating the relic of the Holy Cross, one may pray in these words from the Stations of the Cross:
“We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.”
Unlighted candles as well as flowers may be offered in the marble chapel. One may also drop cash donations into a slot, as love offering.
After venerating the Santo Niño, one may spend time adoring the Sacred Host or the Blessed Sacrament, for Catholics the very presence of Jesus Christ reserved in a container called a monstrance.
The Blessed Sacrament is kept in a separate chapel on the left side of the corridor leading to the marble chapel.
'Behold the man'
Inside the basilica, on the western side close to the altar is enshrined the Ecce Homo (Latin for “Behold the man”), a bust of the suffering Jesus Christ. “Behold the man” was Pontius Pilate’s statement pointing the crowd to Jesus after he was flogged upon the Roman procurator’s orders.
One may venerate this image in honor of Pope Saint John Paul II’s message for Filipinos to remember that Jesus did not remain a boy but grew up.
The Ecce Homo is closely tied to the Santo Niño. The bust was given to Cebu’s king Carlos as a baptismal present, the counterpart to the Santo Niño that was given to his wife, Juana.
Time permitting, one may visit the basilica's garden to continue meditating or to take souvenir photographs.
Aside from a fountain and a fish pond, the garden features sculptures of the Virgin Mary carrying the Infant Jesus, and of Saint Monica and her son, Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine is depicted speaking with a little boy digging a hole in the ground.
Was this boy the Santo Niño? The encounter between the boy and the saint is often repeated by preachers when they speak of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.
The northern end of the garden opens out into the basilica store. Here, one can purchase religious goods, especially images of the Santo Niño. More images are sold behind the church, on D. Jakosalem Street.
Exiting via the store’s western door, one finds oneself in the pamisa office of the basilica. Here the devotee may request for offerings of Mass for various intentions, including for the eternal repose of beloved dead.
There are 3 places in and around the basilica where one may light votive candles and offer prayers. The first, in the courtyard near Colegio del Santo Niño, is the dagkutanan (place for lighting candles).
In Christian tradition, candles are usually blessed on the second of February, the 40th day of the Christmas Cycle counting from the 25th of December (a counterpart to the 40 days of Lent). A candle is a symbol of Jesus Christ as the light of the world and remind the Christian of Jesus’ saying that the believer, too, is the light of the world. Votive candles, for those who light them, attest to their desire for constant presence with their prayers before God.
At the northern end of the dagkutanan is a mural with a larger-than-life Santo Niño centerpiece. To the right and left of this image are portrayals of scenes from the local history of Christianity.
The second and third places for lighting candles are by Osmeña Boulevard and Magallanes Street outside the basilica’s eastern and western gates.
Here, candle vendors will inquire if a devotee would like pasinug, that is, for the vendor to dance and pray to the Santo Niño for the intentions of the candle buyer. A vendor will dance and recite prayers while the buyer offers responses to prayers such as the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be.”
After the sinug, the buyer receives the candles, and while supply lasts, a stampita or cardboard print of the image of the Santo Niño.
In the basement of the basilica’s pilgrim center is the Basilica del Santo Niño de Cebu Museum. According to Augustinian friars, the museum was inaugurated in the convent adjoining the basilica as part of the fourth centennial of Philippine Christianization in 1965. Artifacts include different vestments of the Santo Niño.
The museum opens Thursdays to Tuesdays.
A few steps from the basilica’s western gate on Magallanes Street stands the kiosk that marks the spot where Magellan and the Augustinian friars erected the Cross (popularly known as Magellan’s Cross), as part of the first baptism on Philippine soil on April 14, 1521.
Here, one may gain one indulgence a day by praying the Apostles’ Creed. An indulgence is the partial or total waiver, availed from the merits of Jesus Christ and the saints, of the consequences or punishment of already-forgiven sins.
Along with fulfillment of instructions like that of praying the Creed, an indulgence is gained by what the Catholic Church calls usual conditions: praying for the intentions of the Pope, confession of sins and offering of Mass (up to 20 days before or after carrying out the indulgenced act), and being in a state of grace and interior detachment from any sin. – Rappler.com
Jason A. Baguia is assistant professor of journalism, media, and globalization at University of the Philippines Cebu with research interests at the intersection of media, politics, and religion. He has served as editor and writer for various journalistic and academic publications.