The Feast of the Holy Child

On Sunday evening, Jan. 30, at 4pm, South County residents will gather at St. Mary Catholic Church in Gilroy to celebrate a special occasion, the Feast of the Holy Child (or “Santo Nino”) which commemorates an event that is very important in the history of the Philippines.

In 1521, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in the port of Cebu in the Philippine Islands on behalf of the King of Spain.

Within a week, 1,000 Filipinos, including their leader, Rajah Humabon, were baptized. Magellan marked the occasion by presenting Queen Juana with a wooden statue of the Christ Child.

When the Spanish returned more than 40 years later under Miguel Legazpi, a battle occurred with some natives hostile to Spain.

The Spanish who came ashore later found a small wooden hut undamaged by the raging fire caused by artillery, and inside, also undamaged, was the statue given earlier to the Queen.

This miracle was just the first of many attributed to the statue, now called The Holy Child (or “El Señor Santo Nino”). Devotion to the Holy Child grew: During World War II, Cebu was spared the devastation of Japanese bombing, according to legend, because cloud cover repeatedly hid the city from enemy bombers.

The Holy Child/Santo Nino de Cebu has been recognized by the Vatican. In 1964, on the 400th anniversary of Legazpi’s expedition, Pope John XXIII sent a papal legate for the Pontifical crowning of the statue.

The statue itself, a replica of which will be present for veneration at St. Mary, is a two-foot tall smiling child dressed in regal robes and crown, holding the earth in his left hand with his right hand held up in gesture of peace.

He is considered the Divine Protector of the Philippines.

Santo Nino is a major festival in the Philippines, where approximately 87 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.

The crowds dance with the holy figure, using a peculiar beat and movement called “sulog” which suggests a “river current,” representing the voyage of the Santo Nino through the seas to the Philippine Islands.

The occasion is much like Mardi Gras, marked with music, fireworks, carnival and cultural shows.

The Gilroy celebration will include a procession into the church, a Mass featuring special prayers to Santo Nino, and a potluck meal welcoming all who participate in the happy occasion.

Clergy in attendance will be Monsignor John Coleman of St. Mary and Father Rey Bersabal from Sacramento. Participants are invited to bring their statues to be blessed.

Gilroy’s celebration will be only one of many held throughout the Diocese of San Jose. Morgan HIll’s St. Catherine Catholic Church will hold a similar observance at the 5:30 Mass on Jan. 22, followed by a light reception sponsored by the parish’s Fil/Am Association.

Gilroy’s Holy Child Feast will be sponsored again this year by St. Mary’s Filipino community as a chance to share with others an aspect of their Filipino culture. According to Dorie Sugay, press relations officer for the group, “The more people know about each other, the more people share something of themselves, the easier it is to break down barriers.

We all benefit from the American culture; we hope that by sharing what we are all about, the South County community will also benefit from what we have to offer.”

Anyone of any ethnic group is welcome to join this group and share its cultural, spiritual and civic goals.

For more information, call (408) 847-8948; for more about the Holy Child see the Internet at

Chuck Flagg teaches English at Mt. Madonna High School. Write to him at P.O. Box 22365, Gilroy, CA 95021.

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