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Updated on January 14, 2012

Sto. Nino de Cebu

What are your fond memories of childhood? I grew up in a very small town in Kalibo where the Sto. Nino is honored every 3rd Sunday of January in a festival we call the Ati-Atihan. For me as a child, Christmas has always been a very long celebration. It starts from the “ber” (September) months until the Ati-Atihan is through. That is why good memories of my childhood are very much associated with this festivity. Just like any child who loves to receive gifts at Christmas, mine is even more extended until the very last weeks of January. I remember being carried on my father’s shoulders donned in ashes taken from the palayok, which my mom used for cooking; I remember shouting the very words “HALA BIRA, PWERA PASMA!” which connotes giving our best to the celebration hoping not to get sick; most importantly, my devotion to the Sto. Nino started in my childhood days. I could confidently say, therefore, that my fond memories of childhood are moments of the Ati-Atihan with the Sto. Nino.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that “one cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless one becomes one like the children.” In other words, He asks us to have child-like but not childish qualities if we want to enter the Kingdom of God. Let me point out two very important qualities:

FIRST, is the child-like quality of INNOCENCE. Innocence or in other words, guiltlessness is a quality very much present in a child as the child is free from any sense of guilt and sin. A quality that Jesus possesses even before birth as He born free from any sin. In fact, the very incarnation of Christ, becoming one like us, glorifies our human nature to its original state of grace or in a sense its state of innocence.

Today’s world gives us pictures of the loss of innocence. Just recently, I read on the news about a woman identified as a “Human Barbie” who gave her daughter a voucher worth £7,000 for liposuction, which was actually a follow up of the former voucher for breast augmentation! What was this mother thinking? She’s in a way giving the wrong idea to her daughter of what it means to live God’s gift of life and more importantly, the sense of appreciation of ourselves – a life of innocence and a strong sense self-esteem. The Sto. Nino reminds us in this celebration that He came to us to free us from any bondage of sin and to appreciate our God-given gift contrary to how the world presents life in its totality.

SECOND, is the child-like quality of DEPENDENCE. A child has nothing of his or her own possession. A child will always be dependent on what his or her parents would give. When we are in such a state, we feel vulnerable, we feel helpless. But despite such feelings, we recognize SOMEONE greater than us. Jesus presents Himself for always as the SON of GOD and NEVER a being GREATER than His Father. The Feast of the Sto. Nino, in the same way, calls us to recognize His Father as our Creator and Jesus as our Savior, as SOMEONE whom we could turn to whenever we feel helpless and vulnerable just like any child. As a child of God, we are called to give honor and respect to the Blessed Trinity – ONE in BEING and EQUAL in authority.

Moreover, being a true follower of the Sto. Nino, we are called to be grounded on Him in the spirit of dependence, which seeks only what is essential to Christian life in charity and love.

In one Sunday Pontifical Mass while a fellow seminarian and myself were fixing the bishop’s vestments back to his briefcase, the pastor of the parish handed me a sealed envelope, which according to the pastor has one thousand pesos in it. When we got back to the Bishop’s House, we were called by the bishop and hand us two different envelopes. Quickly, we went to my room to compare notes, who has the biggest stipend. To our surprise we found 400 hundred pesos in each of our envelopes which leave my former bishop with only 200 pesos!

There you see, even a Bishop can give up money. To be dependent on God is to detach ourselves from things that keep us from loving and from being generous to other people. This child-like quality asks us to go back to reminisce our childhood remembering that time and moment when we recognize that we come from God and that we have nothing to claim as our own … we are dependent to our Creator and Savior!

Thus, the Feast of the Sto. Nino is a reminder for us to relive our childhood memories and more importantly to have child-like qualities of INNOCENCE and DEPENDENCE. Christ’s incarnation uplifts our fallen nature to that of God and enables us to share in His divinity by offering us opportunities to change for the better; to become like children once again in truth, beauty and goodness. Let us go back to your fond memories as a child and continue to remind yourselves that you were once a child who have child-like qualities and will forever be a CHILD OF GOD.

And so today, we shout like people on the streets shouting at the top of our voice: “HALA BIRA, PWERA PASMA!”




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