Santo Nino celebrated in display of cultural unity

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Santo Nino celebrated in display of cultural unity

The celebration of the Santo Niño Festival in Tasmanian parishes in January showcased a devotion to the Child Jesus which is greatly steeped in Filipino culture. 

Celebrated this year for the twentieth time in Tasmania, the festival is held to honour one of the Philippines’ most historic and recognisable relics: the Santo Niño de Cebu; a small statue of Jesus as an infant given by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the ruling family of Cebu as a baptismal gift upon their conversion to Christianity in 1521.

The original statue of the Santo Niño survives today, despite being inside a church destroyed by Japanese bombing during the Second World War. The statue survived the attack unscathed, and many people in the Philippines consider its survival miraculous.

Speaking during his homily at Mass on the January 19 feast day at St Paul’s Church in Bridgewater, Archbishop Julian said it is a great joy to honour Jesus as Santo Niño because the Christ Child came to save humanity.

“This kingly child we have before us today came to love.  We honour the Lord Jesus and rejoice that he is with us, watching over and protecting us. We celebrate with great joy, knowing that miracles flow from Christ,” His Grace said. 

Following Mass, parishioners and devotees joined a procession of the statue through the church grounds, followed by a Filipino-style lunch and colourful display of dancing.

Alfonso Ayes, 80, of Glenorchy, who migrated to Australia from the Philippines in 1972, said it was important to commemorate the celebration in Tasmania because devotion to the Santo Nino is a source of cultural and spiritual unity for Filipinos. 

“There would not be a person in the Philippines that doesn’t know about it,” Mr Ayes said.

“When I first moved to Australia, none of this [displays of Filipino culture] occurred.  My wife is in the Santo Nino prayer group here in Bridgewater and it not only helps knowing a devotion that assists our faith, but also gaining contacts in the community.

“It is a source of pride that the Filipino way of life is displayed here in Tasmania,” he said.

The festival was also celebrated on the same day at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Devonport, which included a performance of the ‘Sinulog’ dance.

The Sinulog dance, in which the name derives from the Cebuano dialect “sulog”, meaning a water current movement, involves dancers taking two steps forward and one step backwards to symbolise the flow of the ocean and daily life. 

Roger Hewison, 70, of Devonport said the Filipino community in Devonport “enjoyed it so much” because “it is something Filipinos in the parish can really relate to”.

“It’s very good to celebrate who we are and re-affirm our acceptance of Christianity,” Mr Hewison said.