Santo Niño devotion draws a crowd, and a visiting bishop from the Philippines

Nympha White of Grand Ridge, president of the Filipino-American Society of Central Illinois, carries a banner heralding Santo Niño of Cebu as his image is carried in procession through St. Joseph Church in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Even in times touched by relativism, materialism and secularism, devotion to Jesus as the Santo Niño de Cebu demonstrates how much the Filipino people value their Catholic faith and culture, according to Bishop David Antonio of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, Philippines.

“Surprisingly, though people are exposed to modernity, devotions such as these still gather lots of people, even the young,” he told The Catholic Post. “I consider it a manifestation of their desire to be close to God. . . . It’s a genuine expression of the faith.”

Bishop David Antonio processes through St. Joseph Church in Peoria with the Blessed Sacrament during the Santo Niño celebration July 22. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Bishop Antonio was in Peoria to visit his sister, Marilou Reyel, a nurse at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, and her family. The trip coincided with the celebration for the 19th anniversary of the enthronement of the image of Santo Niño de Cebu at St. Joseph Church in Peoria.

He presided at a Mass for the Filipino-American community and their guests at St. Joseph on July 22. The liturgy included a eucharistic procession through the church with the image of Santo Niño, Benediction, and a blessing of all the Santo Niño images present.

Father Jim Pankiewicz, parochial vicar for St. Joseph and the other parishes in the Heart of Peoria Catholic Community, concelebrated the Mass and joined Bishop Antonio in the parish hall for a reception overflowing with Filipino main dishes and desserts.

“SANTO NIÑO” AN EXAMPLE

Bishop Antonio said devotion to Santo Niño de Cebu is one of the most popular devotions in the Philippines.

“Historically it has a lot to do with the Christianization of the Philippines,” he said. “This image was one of the gifts given to the Queen of Cebu and became a focal point for the spread of devotion to the Lord Jesus.”

It also says a lot about the Filipino culture and its closeness to young people, especially children, Bishop Antonio explained, adding, “It is family oriented.”

In his homily at Mass, he said the popularity of this image of the Child Jesus reminds us that children are naturally friendly, kind, generous and forgiving.

“Have you observed that children are not really choosey with whom they play? When they see other kids it’s quite natural for them, like second nature. They don’t ask where they came from,” Bishop Antonio said.

Marilou Reyel holds the Santo Niño icon that was given to her by her brother, , Bishop David Antonio. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Sure, they can have disagreements and show displeasure with one another, but these only last for a short time,” he told the assembly, which included many children. “The next moment we see them enjoy one another’s company again. Naturally forgiving. Naturally tolerant. Open with one another.”

These are the traits to which Jesus calls us when he asks us to be child-like, the bishop said.

“Through our devotion to Santo Niño, which leads us to Christian maturity, may we all grow into the likeness of Jesus, the misericordiae vultus — Jesus, the face of mercy, the face of patience, forbearance, tolerance, love and compassion.”

BISHOP-PASTOR IS “WHERE GOD WANTS ME TO BE”

Bishop David Antonio was ordained to the priesthood Dec. 1, 1988, and as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia on Aug. 26, 2011. He is also pastor of a large parish, St. Lucy, in Santa Lucia, Ilocos Sur, Philippines.

In 2015, Pope Francis asked him to serve as apostolic administrator of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. A seminary professor of theology since 1998, he has “momentarily” given that up to focus on his ministry to both ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

“It’s good that I still work as a pastor. It keeps my feet planted on the ground and helps me stay in touch with people. I like that,” Bishop Antonio told The Catholic Post.

“It’s also a good way of validating whether or not our approach in the hierarchy still resonates with people,” he said. “That way when we’re crafting policies or directives we know exactly whether or not these things are responsive to the real needs of the people in the pew.”

Bishop Antonio admits that it hasn’t been easy and traveling great distances between the archdiocese and the apostolic vicariate he serves can be “quite a challenge.”

“At first I was hesitant, but you can’t refuse the Holy Father,” he said with a smile. “And, of course, if you are a bishop you realize that if this is the discernment of the Holy Father, maybe this is also where God wants me to go. That’s where God wants me to be.”

He said as long as he can help, he’s ready.

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