JANUARY 20, 2020


“unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 18:3-4

One of the most revered icons in the Philippines is the icon of Senyor Sto. Niño. It is considered as the first and oldest Catholic image in the Philippines and is as old as the dawn of Christianity in our country. In our history, the image of Sto. Niño was given by Ferdinand Magellan as a gift to Rajah Humabon and his wife after the Spaniards had baptized the natives of Cebu. Since then, the image of Sto. Niño has become witness to the flourishing culture of Christianity in the region.

The Sinulog festival, nicknamed as the “mother of all festivals in the Philippines” was celebrated in honor of the revered icon. The devotion spread like fire in many communities and barrios in the Philippines to the point that in every town or province you can find a fiesta in honor of the Sto. Niño. The feast of Sto Niño which was commonly celebrated in the first or second week of January was known through its extravagant street parades, the loud beating of the drums, local parties, energetic Pit Senyor chants, beer plazas, etc. Truly, the feast of Sto. Niño is one of the liveliest fiestas in the country especially in many parts of Visayas in which the devotion to the infant Jesus started in the Philippines. Amidst the noisy celebration and energy of fiestas, I want to emphasize the true meaning of this very important Catholic devotion to the Niño.

The image and devotion to Sto. Niño was long ago popular in Spain, so it’s no surprise that Magellan brought this image as a gift to the Filipino monarchs during their baptism. Despite its popularity in Spain, no one really knows where the devotion and image came from. However, the Church gospel readings during the celebration of the feast teach us a very important Christian virtue that we can learn from the Sto. Niño. In the 18th chapter of Matthew, the disciples were asking about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then called a little child and placed him in the middle of them. Jesus said to his disciples that no one could enter the kingdom of heaven unless he became a child. What does Jesus mean? In this chapter of the gospel, Jesus is setting the standards for greatness, and this is contrary to the worldly standard that the Israelites have.

Being a child means to become lowly and humble. Most of the time, children are more open to new ideas and are easy to correct than adults. Their innocence makes them teachable. As we become older, we tend to lose our innocence together with our ability to accept and correct our own mistakes. Instead of being critical, we become cynical as adults. Jesus is teaching his disciples that being great doesn’t mean to become proud, strong, and boastful like many powerful men in His time, but to become humble and innocent like a child. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”, Jesus added.

The image of Sto. Niño is a reminder of God’s humility. God himself, being the most powerful in the universe, came not as a king but a child born in poverty. The Lord is setting an example to us that being humble is indeed the sign of greatness. As a child, Jesus had experienced the injustices of the Roman ruled Jewish society, so we can’t argue to God that He doesn’t know the pain and suffering of the world and He is just comfortably sitting in the throne enjoying the royal status. He had experienced hunger and thirst, had experienced pain, He was tempted, rejected, and humiliated. From a lowly child, He humbled himself up to the cross, He even experienced death, so that we may attain eternal life. This was the significance of Sto. Niño in our lives as Catholics. Our rich Catholic tradition had so many things to teach us, it’s just that we are too distracted by the aesthetics of the celebration.

Before we shout the famous “Pit Senyor” chant in the streets, as we look in the image of Sto. Niño, may we be reminded of God’s call to humility. That God had set himself as the model for humility. That we can find God not in kingly garments nor royal robes, but in the likeliness of a humble child.

Viva Pit Senyor!