A grand festival

Bishop helps celebrate treasured Filipino feast

On Jan. 21, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Birmingham, marking the celebration of Santo Niño de Cebu. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My dear sisters and brothers, it is my honor to be with all of you today for the celebration of Santo Niño de Cebu! You have come from near and far for this celebration in solidarity with your families and friends in your homeland. So, forgive me if I don’t mention all the special nuances with which you are very familiar as you celebrate this feast today.

A special welcome to all our visiting guests! Thank you for joining us! Thank you, Eden, and the many people who helped to make today possible.

The beautiful statue of Santo Niño was brought to the Philippines by Fernando Magellan, the conquistador from Spain, in 1521. As I read about it, the big festival this weekend, the third Sunday of January, is the annual dancing feast of Sinulog to honor Santo Niño, the “grandest festival in the Philippines” as one author said, drawing from 1 million to 15 million people. So, we are in good company today with our modest celebration recalling not only this gift of Magellan to the Filipino people but the gift the Santo Niño is to the world! What a beautiful gift that so focuses our attention on Christmas – the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem! What the shepherds and others who came to see “this thing” that happened, saw something very beautiful and attractive. The birth of a child is always something very special – something to protect and defend. That’s why many from around the country are in Washington this weekend to rally for the protection of unborn children. Nevertheless, as a Christian people, we seek to defend all people because of the inherent dignity they have!

We hear echoes of Christmas coming through again as we heard read a few moments ago: “A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the great prophet Isaiah says. It was at Christmas that the true light entered the world. Darkness could not quench it. It seemed that this light is now entrusted to us because those who are baptized are children of the light and not of the darkness. We see how light dispels the darkness of night. It allows us to see more clearly, to know where we are going, to not be afraid. No, we are drawn to the light because it shows the way forward.

The Gospel from St. Matthew recounts how Jesus took a little child, embraced him, and reminded us that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. We are to become once again like little children – full of wonder and awe, full of life, full of hope and love. Children trust. Children depend upon others. They must learn and exercise their own freedom to mature. Our Lord reminds us to become like and welcome children. We are grateful for this gift of welcoming a child because every child is an image of the Holy Child – the Santo Niño. So, we reflect upon God’s blessing to us.

You know, we were all children at one time! We had good times and we had hard times. We had hopes and dreams! What a sad thing it is that sometimes as we get older, we forget those dreams and those hopes. High hopes! Big dreams! But God has a dream for us! He dreams that we can be friends with Him. He calls us into friendship with Him. He wants us, through our baptism, to realize that we are part of one family. Yes, we are brothers and sisters all. Where one part is hurting, we all hurt. Where one part is celebrating, we all celebrate. We are in this together.  Through the Santo Niño, we learn also to forgive and to let go – to have only God before our eyes. The Santo Niño brings us together to pray for this grace, this gift. The Santo Niño is our brother. We are part of one great family that gives witness to the world of what God can do for us.

So, I invite you today to leave the darkness behind and come into the light. I invite you to take your place in the family of God as sisters and brothers. It is a place where we know we have a father. We have a mother. It is a place where we are protected and honored. Our Mother Mary prays for us, as she prayed for her son.

If I can just offer one further brief reflection that may not have anything to do with today. I notice that this Child has the globe of the world in his hand. He supports it so effortlessly. He has the whole world in his hand! I remember a few years ago when I visited New York, and I’ll be going there again in a couple weeks. I always go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a visit. It’s on 5th Avenue. Right across the street is one of the entrances to Rockefeller Center – we might call it the cathedral to the secular world with skyscrapers and a tribute to the commercial world. As you stand on the front of the Cathedral steps and look across 5th Avenue to one of the main entrances to Rockefeller Center, there’s a statue of Atlas, the Greek god holding up the world on his shoulders. He can barely lift it and has to use all of his muscles to sustain it. Then, inside St. Patrick’s at the back chapel of our Lady, there’s a similar statue of our Lady, holding the child Jesus in her arms. And Jesus, is holding the globe of the world in His hand – without any effort at all. Yes, let us entrust ourselves to the safety, the security, and the certainty that Christ is supporting us every step of the way. Through the eyes of a child, we can see a freshness and a newness to the world.

May we give thanks this day for the gift of the Santo Niño, to our culture which honors and treasures children and does not want to destroy children because of convenience or burden. May we see in the Santo Niño the hope of the future, a future filled with light, hope, and peace. May God bless you all!