By Oscar Tan III
After nine days of braving the large crowds to attend the novena mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño and nine repetitions of the ever-beautiful hymn “Bato Balani Sa Gugma,” the city can finally erupt in one blissful voice: Pit Senyor!
When thinking of the essence of Sinulog, some may ask the question: What is with this small image of the Child Jesus that seemingly attracts Cebuanos, fellow Filipinos from other islands, and even devotees from countries around the world?
I had the privilege to serve in my very first Basilica Mass on the sixth day of the novena last Tuesday, alongside arguably the most decorated Sinulog composer, Manny Lapingcao, and the rest of the Redemptorist Church-based All Men Praise Choir. After having experienced everything from the viewpoint of a choir member for the first time, I realized one glaring thing: We ought to look no further than the “Bato Balani” for our answer.
The timeless opening verse of the song, “Bato balani sa gugma, sa daan taong palangga,” can be translated into English as “(You are the) magnet of love, whom our ancestors profoundly loved.” At the 5:30 p.m mass on the eighth day, Most Reverend Louie Patalinghug Galbines, D.D. stated in his homily: “We are all united today, because the God that we want to see, to touch, and to be with, is the same yesterday, today and forever. This is how the Baby God gathers all of us today—like a magnet, he draws us all together into His heart, from all over the archipelago, and all over the world. From the shepherds, to the kings, to the angels, for nothing separates from the love of God.”
For those attending Mass at the Basilica on this fiesta day—when “Bato Balani” once again comes along during the Offertory—look at the person to your right and to your left. Then, look around the Basilica and focus on the sea of people. Every single person who goes to the Basilica brings along a distinctive petition within his heart. Each may have his own problem in life that he deeply prays to be resolved. He may also be praying on behalf of a loved one. Perhaps each is seeking for a small miracle to get his life back on track, seeking for some enlightenment, or praying for healing from an illness.
And when the chorus comes around, every single person in the Basilica raises their right hand and waves it in the air, some clutching their own image of the Sto. Niño, singing profoundly the words, “Kanamo malooy ka unta, nga kanimo nangilaba.” For a singular moment, each releases their own distinct problems, offers them to God; and for the duration of the song, forgets about said problems for that moment. Some may be heartbroken, others lost; but for this particular moment, all those negative emotions turn into catharsis and fulfillment. Eventually, joy and thanksgiving take over each and every heart present. This is why clips of the song go viral on social media—it is truly heartwarming to see thousands of people with distinct problems, united in one prayer and one song.
Rev. Louie was absolutely correct. Señor Sto. Niño, our Baby God, who is our magnet of love, draws people from all walks of life toward Him each and every year. Nothing separates us from Him, no matter how deep our problems may be.
From that beloved song alone, we ought to realize that the very essence of Sinulog is to celebrate and honor the God who attracts us to Him through His steadfast love for us. And for that reason, we should never lose faith in Him. When faced with trials and difficulties in life, we should never question whether or not He still loves us, or perhaps, has abandoned us—because He never will. We should keep our faith even beyond the Sinulog season, even when devotees no longer frequent the Basilica as much as they do during the novena. This magnet of love is a timeless one—as God continues to draw us closer to Him day in and day out.
May God’s love empower us and inspire us to carry on with our lives despite whatever troubles face us. His loving and compassionate heart has, is, and shall forever be, a magnet of love that we profoundly adore.
Viva Pit Senyor!