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Filipinos celebrate feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child)

'It reminds us of Christ and the height and depth of his love,' says participant

SUNRISE | Families with children, and grandmas and grandpas wearing Filipino attire and clutching personal statues, flocked to St. Bernard Church in Sunrise Jan. 15, 2023 to celebrate the traditional feast of Señor Santo Niño or Holy Child.

Hercul Granada, a longtime member of the Santo Niño Sinulog of South Florida, showed up early for the celebration sporting a traditional barong tagalog, a silk shirt with embroidered designs.

“This is a big tradition celebrated by Filipino Catholics everywhere,” he said. “It brings us back to our country. Everyone participates in the devotion. It reminds us of Christ and the height and depth of his love.”

Girlie Co, dressed in a bright yellow dress and hat to represent the queen of Cebu, who reigned in the 1500s and was presented the Santo Niño image, shows off two of her personal images of Santo Niño.

Photographer: LINDA REEVES | FC

Girlie Co, dressed in a bright yellow dress and hat to represent the queen of Cebu, who reigned in the 1500s and was presented the Santo Niño image, shows off two of her personal images of Santo Niño.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski joined the Filipino community, and celebrated the Mass. Concelebrating with him were Father Jorge Rodriguez de la Viuda, pastor of St. Bernard, Father Edgardo De Los Santos, a Filipino priest who serves as administrator of St. John the Baptist in Fort Lauderdale, and Father Yamil Miranda, pastor of All Saints Church in Sunrise. Deacon Armando Martínez of St. Bernard also participated.

The afternoon was a wonderful spiritual, cultural and generational occasion with the Himaya Filipino Choir singing songs in English and Tagalog. There were processions, musicians beating drums, incense, dancing, candles and colorful flag waving. Chants of “Viva Pit Señor” or “Hail, Lord Holy Child” or “Hail Lord, listen to our prayers” were heard from time to time.

At one point, Archbishop Wenski asked the children to stand. He blessed them, and then sprinkled holy water on the Holy Child statues of all sizes that were lined up on the altar.

People in the pews were holding their beloved personal statues as they presented their petitions to the Holy Child. Others offered thanksgivings.

Himaya Filipino Choir takes part in festivities for the feast of Santo Niño at St. Bernard Church in Sunrise, Jan. 15, 2023.

Photographer: LINDA REEVES | FC

Himaya Filipino Choir takes part in festivities for the feast of Santo Niño at St. Bernard Church in Sunrise, Jan. 15, 2023.

Girlie Co came early to the celebration wearing a beautiful yellow Filipino dress and hat and carrying several images of the Holy Child. A few of her images were antiques from her early years in the Philippines.

“I have five statues,” she said. “Santo Niño gives me a source of inspiration, love and peace. I learned about the devotions from my mother.”

During the celebration, the pews were full. Folding chairs were set up for additional seating, and some people stood in the back of the church.

Janet Macasero coordinates the Filipino Apostolate of the archdiocese. She was delighted that Archbishop Wenski celebrated the Mass and happy to see the large post-pandemic turnout of participants from areas of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“We began the celebration 33 years ago at St. Bernard,” she said. “It is a celebration of our faith and beliefs that have stood the test of time.”

In South Florida, churches with members of the Filipino community celebrate the feast at various times during the month of January. But in the Philippines, Santo Niño is celebrated on the third Sunday of January, particularly Cebu, where it all began and where the streets are filled with colorful festivities.

An image of Señor Santo Niño or Holy Child is surrounded by red and yellow flowers during the traditional Filipino celebration, Jan. 15, 2023 at St. Bernard Church in Sunrise.

Photographer: LINDA REEVES | FC

An image of Señor Santo Niño or Holy Child is surrounded by red and yellow flowers during the traditional Filipino celebration, Jan. 15, 2023 at St. Bernard Church in Sunrise.

The popular devotion stems back more than 500 years. In 1519, a fleet of five ships commanded by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu in the central Philippines. History reveals that Magellan, in service to Spain, introduced the native people to Christianity and the Santo Niño. The Santo Niño image of Christ was presented to the Queen of Cebu for safekeeping.

Over time, Christianity spread in the Western Pacific region. Today, the Philippines are one of the world’s most predominantly Catholic countries. The devotion to Santo Niño has also grown through the generations, and Filipinos who have moved to other parts of the world have taken the tradition with them.

In his homily, Archbishop Wenski explained that the feast day is a “beautiful celebration – in a way, it extends for us the feast of Christmas when we celebrate that our Savior and Redeemer became a ‘little Child’ precisely to save us and to introduce us to the intimacy of his family which is the life of the Most Holy Trinity. He became one like us so that we could become like him.”  

People of the Philippines began coming to South Florida in the 1980s, when American hospitals were recruiting nurses and other medical professionals. A small group of nurses began a prayer group in the Archdiocese of Miami that eventually led to the archdiocese’s first retreat and Mass for the Filipino community, and eventually the establishment of the Filipino Apostolate.

According to figures listed on usa.com, Filipinos account for less than 1% of the population of Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, which adds up to an estimated 35,000 or so in the Archdiocese of Miami.

The apostolate aims to unite Filipinos in faith and community while helping them keep customs and traditions alive and pass them along to younger generations.

Generations from the Filipino community are represented at the Mass for the feast of Santo Niño, celebrated Jan. 15, 2023 at St. Bernard Parish in Sunrise.

Photographer: LINDA REEVES | FC

Generations from the Filipino community are represented at the Mass for the feast of Santo Niño, celebrated Jan. 15, 2023 at St. Bernard Parish in Sunrise.