Largest papal event in history draws 6 million Filipinos on the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child)
In his homily on the feast of Santo Niño [the Holy Child] in Manila on Sunday, Pope Francis called the faithful to see in the Child Jesus their deepest identity and to protect their families against the devil’s insidious attacks against it.
Speaking to an enormous estimated crowd of 6 million faithful in Rizal Park, site to the 1995 World Youth Day, the Pope said that the image of the Child Jesus, which accompanied the Christianization of the Philippines, continues to remind us of “the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood”.
The Santo Niño, he said, reminds us of our deepest identity. “In Christ we have become God’s adopted children, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is who we are. This is our identity.”
Yet Pope Francis also noted that the world and the devil seek to make us forget the truth of who we are.
“The devil is the father of lies,” he said. “Often he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being ‘modern’, ‘like everyone else’. He distracts us with the view of ephemeral pleasures, superficial pastimes. And so we squander our God-given gifts by tinkering with gadgets; we squander our money on gambling and drink; we turn in our ourselves. We forget to remain focused on the things that really matter."
“We forget to remain, at heart, children of God,” he said. “This is sin: to forget, in one’s heart, to be children of God.”
The Holy Child also reminds us that this identity, and our families, must be protected, the Pope observed.
“Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture,” he said. “Specifically,” he added, “we need to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected.”
Pope Francis’ words follow his address to families Friday, in which he spoke of an “ideological colonization” that is seeking to destroy the family and reaffirmed the Church’s teaching set forth by Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.
His comments come in the wake of the Filipino President Benigno Aquino’s signing of a controversial reproductive health bill that would require government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle and high school students, and a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance.
The Pope concluded his remarks by commending the Filipino faithful to the Santo Niño, asking that he continue to bless the Philippines and sustain Christians in their vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel, in Asia and in the whole world.
The image of the Santo Niño of Cebú [the Holy Child of Cebu] is the oldest religious relic in the Philippines and is considered by many Filipinos to be miraculous.
The 12-inch wooden statue depicting the Child Jesus clothed in royal attire is thought to have been made by Flemish artists and was presented in April 1521 as a baptismal gift by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the newly baptized wife of the Rajah Humabon (baptized Charles V).
The image is one of the most beloved and venerated icons in the Philippines. It is housed in the Minor Basilica of Santo Niño, built on the site where, in April 1565, the statue was found in a pine box amidst the ruins of a burnt house believed to have miraculously survived.
When Blessed Pope Paul VI made the shrine a basilica in 1965, he stated that the image of the Santo Niño was “the symbol of the birth and grown of Christianity in the Philippines.” Pope St. John Paul II also acknowledged the Santo Niño’s providential role in the Christianization of the island.
The feast of the Santo Niño is liturgically celebrated on the third Sunday of January. Its special significance for the Filipino people undoubtedly contributed to the enormous turn out for the event.
“The official number that has been given to us is between six and seven million,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told reporters Sunday at a press conference in Manila. He acknowledged that the figures included the faithful who attended the Mass as well as those aligning the Pope’s route.
This surpasses the estimated 5 million people who attended World Youth Day in Manila with Pope St. John Paul II in 1995.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.