“TODAY, I offer gratitude and shout Viva Pit Señor from afar, for Him who is the closest to my heart.”
Rolando Gaspar Jr., 34, enthusiastically wrote this on his social media over the weekend as millions of Catholic faithful in the Philippines and overseas celebrated the “Sinulog,” the grandest religious and cultural festival in the country that is observed on the third Sunday of January every year to pay homage to Señor Santo Niño or the Holy Child Jesus.
Although he was out in a foreign country for his work, Gaspar said he never fails to pray to the Holy Child Jesus and do the traditional “Sinulog” dance steps while yelling “Pit Señor” during the feast day on January 21, 2024.
“It's very different when you grow up trusting Santo Niño. No matter where you worship in the world, you will still call his same name,” said Gaspar, who works for a foundation in India.
“Whenever I come back to the Philippines, the first thing I would do after landing is to light a candle at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu,” Gaspar added.
He recalled that since he was in fourth grade, the Basilica del Santo Niño “was, and still is, one of my safest places.”
With his zeal and faith in the Child Jesus intact, Gaspar disclosed that he even introduced Sinulog and Santo Niño during their work meeting in India.
“They were wondering I was so colorful and enthusiastic. And Indians can relate because they also have a festival to celebrate their young God,” Gaspar told SunStar Philippines.
In Alaska, USA, Filipino teacher Renante Delima braved the biting wind and the heavy snow outside the streets while wearing a shirt with prints of the Holy Child Jesus as he was also enthusiastic about the celebration, as a devotee.
For his international cultural exchange activity, Delima said he would be showing videos about the Sinulog Festival to his students.
In Palo, Leyte, Melfe Grace Sanchez said they would have a pilgrimage to the Santo Niño de Cebu annually, as part of her “panata” or devotion.
“Despite the distance from Palo to Cebu, we really save money just to attend the yearly Sinulog celebration. As early as November we usually do the online hotel bookings already,” Sanchez said in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
On January 21, Sanchez, along with her family, attended the Pontifical Mass and the Sinulog celebration, which drew over three million devotees across the archipelago.
“Every Sinulog festival celebration is extremely positive. It's a beautiful day out in Cebu, surrounded by family, experiencing a rich display of the culture and history of the area,” Sanchez said.
“We are always looking forward to joining the celebrations many more times in the future,” she added.
In between the beat of the drums and the colorful parade, Sanchez and her family also danced in homage to the Child Jesus, unmindful of the scorching heat of the sun.
During the Pontifical Mass, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma exhorted the devotees of the Holy Child Jesus “to a new way of seeing, a new way of deciding, and a new way of living.”
“May this pursuit of transcendence lead us to personal growth, fostering a community where every step forward transforms us into better individuals, creating a harmonious relationship as we journey together as children of God,” Palma said during the 459th Fiesta Señor.
Tears of joy
As he was moved by the “faith and piety of the people” at the Mass, Cebu priest Roy Cimagala said he “could not help but shed tears of joy.”
“It was my first time to dance the Santo Niño dance after the Mass. I actually am averse to this kind of public display, but the atmosphere was so strongly urging me to dance with the Santo Niño just like what the other concelebrants did. We are truly blessed,” Cimagala shared on social media.
Cebu, the oldest city and first capital of the country, had its first image of the Holy Child Jesus in 1521 when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his troops arrived on the island, which was then called Sugbo, and gifted the statue to Queen Juana, the wife of Cebu chieftain Datu Humabon.
Soon, the statue was regarded as “miraculous” and became the oldest Catholic religious object venerated by the faithful in the country.
Dance for recovery
In the province of Dinagat Islands, some 450 devotees and performers also sailed to Cebu to join the Sinulog Ritual Showdown for the first time since the founding of the cultural Sinulog Festival 17 years ago.
Through their street dance performances in Cebu, the Dinagat Islands’ “Tribu Kamanting,” inspired by its founding festival Bugkosan or “coming together,” retold the history of “unity and resilience” of their island.
“We are not just here to win, we are here because we are already winners. We defeated one of the biggest storms in our history by being united,” said Dinagat lawmaker Alan Ecleo.
Ecleo mobilized support from different groups in the Dinagat Islands to help “Tribu Kamanting” reach the Sinulog event.
“And by being united, we will defeat poverty, isolation, and negativity,” he added.
“Dinagat Islands is full of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, we are all united by our love for our Province, our culture, and our heritage,” Ecleo said in a statement.
With yells of “Pit Señor!” (“Long live, Christ the Child!”) and “Barug Dinagat!” (“Arise Dinagat!”), the performance shared the Dinagat’s history, culture, and the role of faith in paving the way for their strength.
On December 16, 2021, the province of Dinagat Islands became one of the worst-hit areas by Category 5 Typhoon Odette, displacing over 34,000 families in Dinagat alone and flattening over 14,000 houses.
“Dinagat Islands is here to show the rest of the country and the rest of the world that we can rise up,” Ecleo added.
During the Sinulog Ritual Showdown, the Dinagat Islands bagged the second place award.
“These young people represented the best of us: our unity and our faith. This presentation is about giving thanks to God in carrying us through disasters. Winning is just another blessing from His goodness,” the Dinagat official said.
Translate faith into action
In his message, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. enjoined millions of devotees of Señor Santo Niño “to translate their faith into action and spread the message of hope, love, and joy to others.”
“Most importantly, always pray for spiritual strength and fortitude to overcome whatever challenges and difficulties that may lie ahead,” the President said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Sanchez maintained that seeing the image of the Child Jesus in person is “important, in fact venerated as miraculous, by many Filipino Catholics.”
“With strong faith and fervent prayers to Santo Niño, I do believe that all my prayers and petitions shall be answered most especially for the good health, guidance, and protection of our children,” said Sanchez. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)