AS the activities for the feast of the Child Jesus reach their peak with today’s foot procession and tomorrow’s masses at the Basilica and the Sinulog Grand Parade, we should not lose sight of what is the place of the celebration in Cebu’s history. Often, that is drowned in the fiesta’s religious fervor and the Sinulog festivities.
When Ferdinand Magellan and his men reached Philippine shores, Cebu already had a thriving community with its own set of beliefs and which even traded with foreigners other than the Spaniards or the Portuguese. That was precisely why Magellan and his men headed to Cebu after landing in Limasawa.
While Humabon and some of the natives would later have themselves baptized as Christians, their encounter with the Spanish explorers was so brief the acceptance of the belief must not have gone deep. One would not even know now how Humabon and his people viewed the gifts that Magellan gave to them, which included the image of the Child Jesus.
That is why it would be a stretch to say that in the intervening decades between the Cebu natives’ encounter with Magellan in 1521 and the start of the conquest of the Philippines by the Spaniards led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, Humabon and his descendants venerated the image of the Sto. Niño the way we who have been steeped in Catholicism for hundreds of years venerate it now.
The finding by Spanish mariner Juan Camus of the image in a burnt house after Legazpi and his men attacked the Cebu community in an effort to subjugate the natives does not actually say anything except that somebody must have kept the image—for what reason history does not say. What we do know is that since then the image of the Sto. Niño has played a special role in our religious acts.
The fiesta is a Catholic celebration. Understandably, the story of the Sto. Niño image has not been objectively narrated like what historians would do but is instead filled with religious claims. But that should not mean we should not be given a better understanding of the Sto. Niño story from the perspective of historians.
Doing so should strengthen belief in the Sto. Niño and not diminish it.