“Some Challenges Of The Feast Of The Sto. Nino” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The Feast of the Sto. Nino celebrates our nation’s great devotion to the child Jesus that has been maintained since 1521 with the gifting of the new Christian queen Juana with the image of the Sto. Nino by Magellan. The devotion has acquired different cultural trappings and practices, foremost of which are the Sinulog festivities that can be called as indigenously native.

The following are some of the challenges that the Feast of the Sto. Nino poses to us as Christians.

First, the Feast of the Sto. Nino reminds us of Jesus humbly identifying Himself with us in our humanity. The Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He was born a helpless and vulnerable child. He grew up in age, strength, knowledge, wisdom, and virtues and in the love and the grace of the Lord. He experienced what we experience in terms of human growth processes. He became close to us, near to us, becoming like us in all things except sin.

We have seen images of the Sto. Nino wearing a “Barong Tagalog,” in a basketball uniform, in a “kamiseta,” or in shorts. These devotional and indigenous images all boil down to the reality of God being one with us in all things except sin. Many people can identify with the Sto. Nino because He has first identified Himself with us.

Second, the feast challenges us to be childlike and to reclaim the inner child within us in the face of growths, sophistications and experiences of pains as adults. The child possesses so many endearing qualities that we must keep even when we are already adults. Child-like qualities such as trust, forgiveness, simplicity, gentleness and transparency, among others, must continue even in the lives of adult people.

The gospel reading from St. Matthew on this Feast of the Sto. Nino (Year A) deals with the issue of true greatness in the Kingdom of God. The discourse is occasioned by the disciples’ question about who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom. In the context of the Jewish society in that time, there was a good deal of preoccupation with position, status and placement in the coming Kingdom.

Jesus’ answer to the question of the disciples is composed of powerful actions and words. He calls a child and sets him in the midst of the disciples and admonishes them to become like little children. In ancient society, a child was a “nobody,” someone unimportant and without legal rights or standing and who was completely dependent on his parents. For a child, everything was a gift.

Anybody, therefore, who wants to be great in the Kingdom of God must be like a little child, a “nobody”. He/she must be someone who sees and receives everything as a gift from God. No one has a rightful claim on God’s Kingdom. The only precondition for entry into the Kingdom is the childlike and humble attitude of recognizing and receiving the Kingdom as a gift.

In presenting a child as a symbol of the Kingdom, Jesus makes him/her a model of innocence, humility and dependence on God. All forms of lobbying and status climbing are dismissed as anti-Kingdom values and practices.

Finally, we cannot have a devotion to the Sto. Nino and at the same time neglect our children. We refer here not only to our own biological, adoptive or surrogate children, but also to all the children in our midst. The Feast of the Sto. Nino must also impel us to take care of and protect all children, especially the most vulnerable among them. In the gospel passage, Jesus shows that people of the Kingdom manifest God’s special care and concern for the little ones.

According to the He Cares Foundation: Streetchildren Caring Center, there are more than 1.5 million street children in the Philippines – about 70,000 of them in Metro Manila alone. The Feast of the Sto. Nino reminds us that the inherent Filipino love for children must be translated into concrete deeds and programs that address the sufferings and problems of vulnerable children, including the street children. We cannot accumulate images of the Sto. Nino, some of which are even very expensive, while neglecting the poor and abused children. Genuine devotions must always lead to good deeds in the name of God and for the sake of others, especially the little ones.

About Fr. Robert and more of his reflections