Sunday, January 18, 2009



People were bringing their little children to Jesus that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this He became indignant and said to them: “Let the children come to me. Do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then He embraced the children and blessed them, placing His hands on them.

There is no doubt about the deep and enduring devotion to the Sto. Niño throughout the Philippines. We see statues and statuettes, and paintings of the Holy Child not only in churches and homes, but also in offices, not to speak of the stores, big and small – where a lamp (electrical or genuine) flickers perpetually in front of the revered statue, clad in his green cape. (They say this is the color that brings luck in business . . )

Since the time Magellan presented the small statue as a baptismal gift to Juana, the wife of King Humabon, and the time the same statue was miraculously retrieved fifty years later, this image of the Child Jesus has become deeply rooted in practically every aspect of the life of most Filipinos.

So deeply rooted has such a devotion become, in fact, that it has also undergone a considerable degree of “inculturation.” Unlike the numerous images of Our Lady imported from Spain or Mexico or made locally, and which have remained unchanged along the centuries, the image of the Sto. Niño has “mutated” into an amazing variety of versatile expressions and attires. These can be seen everywhere, though in smaller numbers than the replicas of the original one that is zealously preserved in the Cebu Basilica.

It is interesting, and sometimes pleasantly surprising, to see not only minor variations of the original Sto. Niño (still dressed up as a king, with his gold-embroidered red cape, His crown, the globe in the left hand, His sword hanging on His left side, and the spurs at the back of his boots), but also several “modern versions.”

So we can see the Sto. Niño fisherman, carrying his fishnet, hook and fish basket; the Sto. Niño farmer, equipped with the tools that are typical of this profession, and a basket of fruits; and the “white collar” Sto. Niño, sporting a nice Barong Tagalog and an elegant briefcase. I remember seeing somewhere in a school a Sto. Niño basketball player, in shorts, sweater and his “Mikasa” basketball firmly under his grasp. I would not be surprised if one day an artist might create a Sto. Niño astronaut or computer wizard.

It is definitely edifying to see whole families gather and kneel down in the evening to pray in front of the family altar, the centerpiece of which is oftentimes a statue of the Holy Child.

And I know for a fact that almost all our OCWs (Overseas Contract Workers), when they leave for abroad, do not forget to take with them a small statue or at least a picture of the Sto. Niño. This will be for them a visual reminder that, at home, the entire family of every emigrant will pray for him/her every evening in front of a copy of the same statue.

The veneration of this small and revered religious image will be a source of great consolation and inspiration for so many of our emigrants, especially in Muslim countries where Christians are few and are not allowed any external manifestation of their faith.

There is, of course, a danger that some devotees get too much attached to the statue itself and do not always make the necessary connection with the reality it represents, i. e., the person of Jesus. This is surely regrettable but it can easily be “corrected” through proper religious instruction and patience. (Certain habits, acquired in childhood, do not easily die out.)

More worrisome, however, is the inconsistency one can notice, sometimes, between an individual’s external (and even ostentatious) devotion to the Sto. Niño and that same person’s moral behavior. An adequate catechesis should impress on all devotees, and especially on this last category, that any form of devotion entails also a commitment to live according to the way that saint lived and taught.

This applies in a special manner to the Devotion to Jesus, under the title of “Sto. Niño,” because He is our moral teacher and model. To carry a picture of His on our body or in our car, while leading a dissolute life, is more of a mockery than a sign of love. To enthrone the statue of the Sto. Niño in a store where cheating is practised almost systematically is hardly a sign of a genuine devotion.

While these are real dangers, or even sad realities, one should also clarify that these negative forms of misbehavior are exceptions. The largest majority of Filipinos really love the Sto. Niño and make every effort to please him through their behavior.

And this is, perhaps, one of the main reasons why this devotion continues to flourish and contributes so significantly to the preservation of the Catholic faith among our people.

  • How genuine and well grounded is my devotion to the Sto. Niño?
  • How do I show my love for Him?
  • Is there something in my behavior and lifestyle which does not please Him?
  • How can I remedy this?
  • What is the best gift I can offer in honor of the Sto. Niño?

Christie Ricafuerte

Euchalette, 18 January 2009
MCPO Box 1820, Makati City 1258, Philippines