Prayer-dance, grand processions mark Feast of Sto. Niño

PIT SEñOR. Devotees young and old raise images of the young Jesus to be blessed with holy water, shortly after an early morning eucharistic celebration in honor of the Feast day of Senor Santo Niño at the Sto. Niño parish church in Moriones,Tondo, Manila. EY ACASIO. Manila Standard photo.

Published January 15, 2017, 12:10 AM by Manila Bulletin

by Christina I. Hermoso and Mars W. Mosqueda, Jr.

Devotees to the Santo Niño from different parts of the country celebrate today the Feast of the Child Jesus, which is traditionally marked with festive rites and grand processions.

In Manila, 33 fiesta masses will be celebrated at the Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish that started at 3 p.m. yesterday until 11 p.m. today. The “Lakbayaw” Festival, the highlight of the annual feast in Tondo was held at 8 a.m. yesterday while the grand procession will be held at 4 a.m. today.

In Pandacan, Manila, the “Buling-Buling” Festival in honor of the Santo Niño will be marked by masses at 5 and 6 a.m. and thereafter an hourly mass from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Santo Niño Parish. Two masses will be celebrated at 7 a.m. – at the church and at the plaza which is called the ati-atihan mass. A grand procession will be held at 7 tonight.

Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada thanked the Santo Niño for all the blessing and guidance the city and its residents have been receiving.


In Cebu City, the widely popular “Sinulog” (dance prayer) in honor of Senor Santo Niño, the oldest festival in the archipelago, is expected to gather around a million devotees of the Holy Child. Cebuanos do not consider the Christmas season over until after the celebration of the festive “Sinulog” which attracts local and foreign tourists.

“Sinulog”, from the Cebuano adverb “sulog” means “like water current movement” depicts the forward-backward dance movement to the beat of drums resembling the current of what was then known as the Pahina River of Cebu.

The heart of the “Sinulog” is the locals’ centuries-old devotion to the Holy Child, whose miraculous image is greeted with cries of “Viva Senor Santo Niño!” “Hail to the Child King!” and “Pit Senor!” from the phrase “Sangpit sa Senyor” (Call to Senor).


Despite the drizzle and the threat of bad weather, the annual fluvial procession proceeded smoothly yesterday morning.  More than 100 vessels joined the fluvial parade while thousands of devotees lined up the port area of Cebu City to witness the much-awaited religious activity.

Security was tight at Pier 1 as devotees waited for the arrival of the vessel – a replica of the galleon that Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan commanded, carrying the image of the Sto. Niño and the Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said they registered 60 vessels for the fluvial procession but more than 100 vessels, including small bancas, joined the parade that started at Ouano Wharf in Mandaue City and ended at Pier 1.

There was a heavy downpour of rain early dawn Saturday but the rain turned into a slight drizzle as the fluvial procession started at 7 a.m.

“The Sto. Niño wants us to be here so he stopped the rain,” 49-year-old Rosario Lapitan, a devotee at Pier 1 said.

The images of the Sto. Niño and Our Lady of Guadalupe were paraded towards the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño where the first baptism in 1521 was reenacted.


Telecom companies shut down mobile phone service as early as 4 am yesterday and will remain shut until the end of the Sinulog Festival tonight.  At least 27 barangays in Metro Cebu were affected by the shutdown:  Sto. Niño, San Roque, Tinago, T. Padilla, Tejero, San Miguel, Carreta, Lorega, Zapatera, Sambag 1, Sambag 2, Sta. Cruz, Cogon-Ramos, San Antonio, Kamagayan, Kalubihan, Parian, Kamputhaw, Hipodromo, Capitol Site, parts of barangays Looc and Centro in Mandaue City, parts of barangays Poblacion and Pajo in Lapu-Lapu City, Day-as, and San Nicolas.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) also declared the three nautical mile-radius from the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño a no-fly zone for unmanned drones.


The Cebuanos’ devotion to the Child Jesus has deep historical roots. The image of the Holy Child was brought to the country by Magellan on April 14, 1521 as a gift to Queen Juana of Cebu, who was reportedly moved to tears after she saw the 15-inch tall wooden statue of the Santo Niño. She allowed herself to be baptized as a Christian, along with her husband Rajah Humabon and more than 800 natives. After Magellan was killed by Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan, not much was heard about the image, except that the Cebuanos worshipped the Santo Niño as a ‘rain god’.

In 1565, when Spanish conqueror Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu, a Spanish soldier, Juan Camus, found the image inside the house of a native. His house was razed by a fire that miraculously spared the holy image.  Legazpi then named Cebu as the City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Today, the image now known as Santo Niño de Cebu, is considered the oldest Christian relic in the country. It is enshrined and venerated at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the oldest church in the country. Largely a religious celebration and a thanksgiving festival, the street dancing that we know today had its beginnings with the traditional “sinulog,” a prayer dance that was offered to the Holy Child on its feast day every third Sunday of January. Then a small celebration within the vicinity of the basilica, the carnival-like celebration soon became a major tourist event in Cebu.


Other festive and colorful celebrations in honor of the Holy Child include Kalibo, Aklan’s “Ati-Atihan” Festival where participants dress themselves in native Ati tribal garments, their faces smeared with ash; Romblon’s “Biniray” festival; Cagayan de Oro City’s  “Pachada Senor” ; Butuan City’s,  “Kahimunan” festival; Antique’s  “Binirayan” and “Handugan” festivals; Iloilo City’s  “Dinagyang” Festival; and Pagadian City’s  “Zambulawan” Festival.

In Maypajo, Caloocan City, a procession of the different images of the Holy Child and street dancing will highlight the “Pajotan de Sto.Niño” Festival. In Pasig City, the Bambino Festival in honor of the Child Jesus will be celebrated with a mass and a procession. Celebrations will also be held in Malolos, Bulacan; Laoag City, Ilocos Norte; Binalonan, Pangasinan; and in several other cities and provinces.

After each Eucharistic celebration, children are traditionally blessed by priests.


But amid the festive mood, a Catholic priest said this year’s celebration will be tinged with sadness for the families of the victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) especially in Tondo, Manila.

“Many families who lost a loved one won’t celebrate because they are sad,” Fr. Edu Gariguez, an attached priest of the Sto. Niño de Tondo Parish in Manila. “Let us include those who died and their families in our prayers today.”

Church leaders earlier lamented the extrajudicial killings in the country allegedly brought about by the ongoing war on drugs of the Duterte administration.

According to the priest, the drug problem in Tondo may have been reduced but not totally eliminated.

“In Tondo, while the number (drug users) somewhat decreased, it was not that significant. I hope the government conduct a scientific study if it’s really decreasing,” said Gariguez. (With reports from Cris G. Ordonia and Leslie Ann G. Aquino)

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