Bishop Raica celebrates with the Filipino community

On Jan. 20, the bishop celebrated Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Birmingham with the local Filipino community to celebrate the feast of Santo Niño which commemorates the birth of Catholicism in the Philippines. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My dear brothers and sisters, welcome to this Mass honoring Santo Niño as celebrated in the Filipino tradition. You have come from near and far. A very special welcome to Father Pachomius Alvarado-Garcia, parochial vicar here at St Francis Xavier, and Father Justin Ward, pastor of St. Mark parish and our emcee for this Mass, along with the many who have braved the cold fresh Alabama morning to be here today. For this reason, we gather in the warmth of our faith to reflect upon the profound significance of our devotion to Santo Niño de Cebu. As you know, it dates back to the arrival of Magellan in the Philippines. He brought this beautiful image as a gift to the local chieftain and his wife as the symbol of the beginning of Christianity in the Philippine islands.

In our readings today, we are reminded of the prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. In Isaiah (9:6), we hear the words, "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon His shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." This verse encapsulates the essence of our devotion to Santo Niño – a divine child, a source of counsel and peace.

The passage from Ephesians (1:3-6, 15-18) emphasizes the blessings we have received through Christ, our adoption as children of God. Just as the people of Cebu embraced Santo Niño, may we embrace our identity as children of the Heavenly Father, marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

The story of the Magi coming to adore the Christ child resonates deeply with our devotion to Santo Niño. Like the Magi, we, too, seek to encounter the divine in the simplicity of a child. Their journey reminds us that true wisdom lies in recognizing and adoring the presence of Christ in our lives.

More recently, Pope Francis endorsed the image and called the Santo Niño the “protector” of the Philippines in his homily at the Rizal Park on Jan. 18, 2015.  Today, we, too, pray for the protection of the homeland of many who are here today and those who are associated with the Filipino culture and traditions living in many nations throughout the world.

In the midst of the challenges and triumphs faced by our ancestors, the enduring presence of Santo Niño became a beacon of hope and a testament to the enduring faith of the Filipino people.

In the spirit of devotion to the Divine Child, Santo Niño, St. Therese of Lisieux who was passionate about the divine child noted something we should never forget: "To be little is to recognize one's nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father." As we gaze on the innocent countenance of Santo Niño, do we expect everything from God? Do we trust that God, through His providence, will provide us with everything we need. Do we believe that God will care for us?

As we gather in the Filipino community to honor Santo Niño, I invite you again to embrace the childlike faith that epitomized St. Therese of Lisieux, which also opens our hearts to the boundless love of God. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminds us, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (cf. Mt 18:4)

In the words attributed to Pope Francis, "A child is a sign of hope, a blessing for humanity." Santo Niño represents not only hope but also the embodiment of divine blessings. Today, we also pray in particular for our families, communities, and the entire Filipino nation.

Celebrating Santo Niño de Cebu today, we are mindful of the profound message conveyed through the childlike innocence of our Lord. May our devotion be a testament to our faith, a beacon of hope, and a source of inspiration for generations to come. Just as the Magi presented gifts to the Christ child, we, too, offer the gifts of our hearts – faith, love, and unwavering devotion.

Finally, may our devotion to Santo Niño strengthen our faith, deepen our love for God, and inspire us to live with the simplicity and purity of heart that characterize a child's love. May the words of the Psalmist echo in our hearts and lives: "Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him. Truly, He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (cf. Ps 62)

Santo Niño de Cebu, guide us with Your childlike wisdom, and may our devotion to You lead us closer to the heart of Christ. Amen.