Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Finding of the Sto. Nino

When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu on 13 February 1565, he was greeted by fear and hostility by the natives-- a fact which his companion, the explorer turned Augustinian monk Fr. Andres de Urdaneta, duly noted. Urdaneta had been a companion to Magellan on his first voyage to find the fabled Spice Islands, but who had subsequently discovered the Philippines today. Being able to speak Malayan, which evidence would show has striking similarities to Cebuano, he was able to deduce the reason for the hostility that now greeted them, whereas Magellan, when he first arrived more than forty years before, had been met favorably.

From a Muslim trader, he learned that a pack of Portuguese traders had come to Cebu, announcing themselves as the Spaniards who had befriended their forefathers years past. However, the true intent of the Portuguese party was to sow the seeds of discord among the Cebuanos and the Spaniards; they killed many people and kidnapped more, selling them in the slave markets presumably. For Legzpi, the fact that some of the Cebuano chiefs had been baptized earlier enforced a sort of moral obligation on him to see to the well-being of their faith; he also knew that he had to disabuse them of their errors.

Easter Sunday, 21 March 1565, saw Legzpi sailing to Cebu to set the record straight. Three times did they assure the Cebuanos of their peaceful intent. On the third try, Legazpi, still met with a fierce hostility, reluctantly agreed to use his cannons. The Cebuanos fleed from the superior weapon, but not before burning their settlement to the ground in an effort to starve off the Spaniards. And so one morning found the Vizcayan Juan de Camus loitering on the beach, to see what little of the burnt village he could salvage."

"While sacking, then, the Cebuano houses their owners had abandoned and had been spared from the conflagration, a sailor of the flagship-- called Juan de Camus, but by others "de Bermeo" since he came from this place in Vizcaya-- and a companion named Pedro de Alorza from the same ship, were doing the usual soldiers' thing."

"Camus entered a native chief's hut and found two bundles tied up (doubtless to bring them with their clothes on fleeing to the mountain). He opened one of them and found only a boar's tooth and a large cup. Hoping to satisfy his wats, he went farther inside the house and found another case tied with Castilian cord and abaca string. Surprised by its weight, he broke the strings, and opening the case, there inside, he found arranged in a pine box (a wood not found in these islands), a statue of the Child Jesus."

"Totally surprised, as though beside himself, he went out joyfully because of his find, in bad Castilian, since he was a Vizcayan, "For the body of God, Son of Mary, you have found!" Everyone crowded inside the house and the General, on his knees, tears in his eyes, and with acts of special devotion, venerated it. These were joined by those men from the fleet. Everyone admitted that God was rewarding the General's constant devotion to the Holy Name and his burning zeal with which he was undertaking a temporal conquest that would result in the spiritual conquest of such a multitude of souls!"

In due time, the Spaniards held a most solemn procession in honor of the Child, before celebrating the Holy Mass. They transferred the image of the Senor to a provisional shrine, the first Catholic house of worship in the entire Philippine archipelago. However, the biggest surprise came when two Cebuano chiefs and a retinue of about thirty followers were seen observing the pomp and majesty of the liturgy.

To the Spaniards' shock, upon interrogation, the Cebuanos had claimed that they had venerated the Sto. Nino since time immemorial, even calling it 'their god'. They claimed He was a powerful rain god whom they honored with feasting and dancing. And when He failed to deliver on His promises, they would take the image out of its case, and place it on a decorated altar before singing prayers and religious hymns to it. When that failed, however, and the rains still would not come, they would take the Nino by the sea, and stripping it of its garments, they would submerge Him upside down in the water and hold Him there until the rains fell. They gave Legazpi and his men the assurance that this has never been known to fail.

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