Hundreds of Filipino devotees throng St Augustine’s Church to celebrate feast of Santo Niño

Marco Carvalho

On Sunday, January 15, the Filipino Catholic community based in Macau celebrated one of its most relevant traditions. More than five hundred faithful gathered at Saint Augustine’s Church to dance in praise of the Senõr Santo Niño de Cebu, a highly-revered image of the Christ Child widely venerated as miraculous by millions of Filipinos.

The devotion to the Holy Child of Cebu dates back to the early 16th century and embodies the very essence of Filipino religiosity. In Macau, the celebration of the Sinulog festival has been taking place for more than two decades, but in the last three years the celebrations lacked the magnitude and effusiveness of yesteryear, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Normally, we serve Filipino food to those who gather to attend the celebrations. At the same time, we used to organize a street dance competition to choose the best Sinulog dance performance,” Angelo Magat, from the Santo Niño de Cebu in Macau Association, told O Clarim.

“Dancing with the image of Senõr Santo Niño is something that is part of both our religious and our cultural tradition. It is an expression of joy, happiness and gratitude on the part of devotees. It is the way that they found to show that they are grateful for the blessings that were granted to them. The dancers lift the image of the Santo Niño and proclaim ‘Here is our beloved God. Honour him in the belief that he is our saviour.’ It is, essentially, a profession of faith. Sinulog, the dance, is a way of giving a greater emphasis to the faith that Santo Niño inspires. He is an inspiration to millions of devotees,” Magat added.

Given the still omnipresent threat of Covid-19, the Santo Niño feast was this year, once again, limited to the core aspect of the celebrations: a Solemn Eucharist took place in Saint Augustine’s Church, followed by a brief, but crowded procession. Even with the festivities running at half-speed, the Filipino community based in Macau came out in force and joined the religious celebrations.

“Devotion to Senõr Santo Niño is very important for us, for the overall Filipino community. We believe that the Christ Child is our God and that our God loves us. He is the source of all that we have acquired. The faith we place in Him works miracles and makes everything possible. To have the image of the Santo Niño in our house is enough to call upon His protection, for Him to take care of us and those we love the most,” Mr. Magat concludes.

Father Felipe Bacalso, who first arrived in Macau in late October, presided over the local Santo Niño celebrations. The Jesuit missionary claims that, in the Philippines or in south China, the Sinulog festival and the devotion to the Holy Christ Child are an expression of the deep devotion that the Son of God Made Man inspires in the Filipino people. “It is an expression of faith. The Filipino people have an unshakable faith in the Catholic Church. The Santo Niño celebrations are something that happen only once a year, but it is the sort of thing that moves people and brings them together,” Father Bacalso emphasizes.

“We cannot duplicate, of course, what is done in the Philippines. First of all, because there are many more people celebrating there. There is a parade, a procession that takes over the streets of the city and brings together many, many thousands of devotees. That is one of the differences. We wouldn’t be able to do the same in Macau. Here we have an improvised version of Santo Niño de Cebu; it is, still, an important expression of our people’s faith. Big or small, it is an expression of the faith that moves an entire people,” the Jesuit priest adds.