Probably you would agree with me that the most popular household image is the Santo Niño. I bless an image of the Santo Niño almost everywhere – from homes, to cars, to offices, factories, stores, even at some drinking spots and amusement and gambling places!
But kidding aside, it pays to get to know how this image came to our country and reflect on how the devotion influenced and molded the Christian faith we have now. From the 16th century, Magellan introduced it to our shores. It was known to replace the animistic spirituality of the Filipinos. Later on, it evolved to more concrete experiences of the Divine for the miracles attributed to the Santo Niño like the blessings of bountiful harvest and saving the entire community from wars, calamities, and others. Truly, the devotion to the image found its niche in the hearts and minds of the Filipinos.
Today, the Santo Niño comes in various shapes and sizes, sporting different costumes and titles. Aside from the classic and majestic Santo Niñong hari, there is the Santo Niñong gala or palaboy, tulog, magsasaka, and others, not to mention the Santo Niño in a baseball costume and in a police uniform! Indeed, almost anything is possible under the sun!
But what does it say about the faith of the Filipino? Is it still bordering on extreme fatalism or worst, idolatry?
The devotion still reveals much about the Christian faith, which the Filipino professes today. The inculturation of the Christian faith and harmonizing it with the animistic spirituality is positive indeed. It brings out our relationship with the Divine in a visible and concrete way. The different faces, costumes, and titles of the Santo Niño also reveal a lot about the Divine being imbedded into the mainstream of human life.
Though on the negative note, much still has to be done as far as the maturity of faith is concerned. The Filipinos still have to realize that the image is not magical. It is meant to heighten our awareness of God and not treat it as “anting-anting”. Also, the Filipinos’ devotion is meant to be a challenge to align one’s whole life with Jesus Christ, the son of God, who was once a child like any of us, but matured in grace, in age, and in wisdom, to be our Messiah, taking up His cross for our salvation.
If Filipinos all take time to reflect once again the small image in their hands, they would know that the image becomes a dynamic reminder for them to journey toward God, get to know him, and follow His will. Then we will see from that small image comes out a livelier faith, more committed to change the world and the hearts of men and women.
Dressing up the Santo Niño in different costumes and uniforms is a manifestation that we want God to be present with us in our everyday life and in our daily activities. For me, this is a positive attitude but we must go deeper than just believing that God is already here with us for as long as we have the image of the Santo Niño in our homes, in our pockets and in our necks. As we dress up the Santo Niño just like us in our daily activities, then we must also try to put on the dress of God so that we can also be like him. To be like him is to learn how to love in the very same way that he has loved us all.