Celebrating the feast of the Santo Niño amid the pandemic (PHOTO)
by Kenneth Corbilla

The images of the faithful celebrating the feast in silence and respecting social distancing are unforgettable. Usually millions of people take part in the celebration. According to tradition, Ferdinand Magellan gave an image of the Santo Niño to Queen Juana, the wife of the king of Cebu, a gesture that started the spread of Christianity in the city and throughout the country. Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila, led the Mass with the parish priest of the shrine, Fr Estelito Villegas. Eight Masses were celebrated during the day, all broadcast on social media.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Celebrations that usually draw millions of people each year were cut back because of the pandemic. Despite an advisory against visiting the shrine in Tondo, which is located on the outskirts of Manila, hundreds of Filipinos waited patiently in the early morning and in the evening, in line, to enter the church, to take communion, receive the blessing and the figurines of the Child Jesus, which they raised over their heads. The images that our correspondent sent us have the flavour of genuine faith and beauty that can help overcome this difficult time for Manila and for the world.

The Philippines celebrated the feast of the Santo Niño on 17 January. The Santo Niño is represented by a figurine of the Child Jesus, originally brought to the country by Spanish explorers.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippine government authorised celebrations at the Santo Niño shrine in Tondo, on condition that health and safety measures were strictly observed, including wearing surgical masks or visors and keeping social distance.

The devotion of Filipinos to the Santo Niño goes back a long time. This celebration is considered one of the most important festivities in the Philippines because it is full of colours and joy.

The apostolic administrator of Manila, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, opened the celebrations by presiding over a Mass at the shrine, at 4 am on 17 January.

In his homily, Bishop Pabillo stressed the fact taht the faith of the Filipinos is centred on Jesus Christ and that the people of the Philippines love all the festivities that are linked to the figure of Christ: Christmas, the Black Nazarene, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the feast of Divine Mercy, Holy Week, the Feast of the Child Jesus.

He also pointed out importance of the Santo Niño as one of the first objects of devotion, at a time when Filipinos are marking 500 years of Christianity in the country, with the theme “Gifted to give”. The image of the Santo Niño is an emblem of Christianity in the Philippines. According to tradition, Ferdinand Magellan gave an image of the Santo Niño to Queen Juana, the wife of the king of Cebu. This, it is said, started the spread of Christianity in the city and throughout the country.

Manila Police District Station 2 estimates that some 750 people attended the first Mass at 4 am, in the vicinity of the church in Tondo.

Amid so many changes, the same faith

In his homily during the solemn Mass, Fr Estelito Villegas, parish priest of the Tondo shrine, said that the presence of Jesus is not lost among the faithful, even though there were many changes this year. The faithful must not take into account the difficulties in which the feast day is celebrated this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, they must recognise the presence of Jesus in everyone's heart.

This year, to avoid more infections, the local authorities and shrine officials decided to suppress the procession with the statue of the Child Jesus; they also cancelled the Lakbayaw Festival, in which devotees march and dance while holding a replica of the Santo Niño.

The priest expressed his appreciation to the faithful, who celebrated the feast with a spirit of praise and devotion, even if the country is under the threat of COVID-19. The feast of the Santo Niño renews the Lord’s eternal love for us.

In all eight masses

The order and safety with which the celebration took place were the result of the work of the police who operated with precision and discretion. The priests of the Tondo shrine thanked local authorities, Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, the police and the soldiers for enabling the celebration to go ahead and for guarding the church, its entrances and exits, inside and outside.

The men in uniform paid close attention especially to the entrances and exits of Masses. In all, eight of them were. Those responsible also broadcast the Masses on social media. This way, many faithful were able to follow them from home or work, preventing large gatherings in and around the church.