450 YEARS OF PRESENCE OF THE AUGUSTINIANS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Santo Niño and the Dawn of Christian Faith in the Philippines
(the 450thYEAR OF THE FINDING OF THE IMAGE OF THE SANTO NIÑO DE CEBU [1565-2015], the 450 YEARS OF PRESENCE OF THE AUGUSTINIANS IN THE PHILIPPINES [1565-2015], and the 50TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE SANTO NIÑO CHURCH AS BASILICA MINORE [1965-2015])

Backgrounder

450th Official Logo
450th Official Logo

        The Santo Niño icon of Cebu is historically recognized as the oldest religious relic in the Philippines. Itsorigin is traced from the celebrated voyage of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 which accidentally “discovered” and claimed the islands for the Spanish Monarchy. The historic arrival was purely uncalculated for the fleet did not intend to sail directly to the Philippines. The land of the spices, particularly the highly-contested Moluccas, was the expedition’s targetdestination. The armada reached the islands after it was driven away by strong winds from the original routewhich eventually brought them to the island of Cebu. The preliminary encounters that followed forged conditional alliancesand the accompanying ceremonials took place including the introduction of the Christian faith. Initial attempt to evangelize the indigenous people of Cebu was accomplished with the hasty acceptance of the Christian faith by King Humabon and his subjects numbering around 800. The Santo Niño image was given to Queen Juana upon her ardent wish to have it in place of her local deities. The baptized indigenous people did not flourish in their practice of faith mainly due to the untimely demise of Magellan (including the chaplain Fr. Pedro Valderrama) and the eventual return of the surviving contingent to Spain. Also attributable to the absence of deeper instruction, the baptismal rite was misconstrued by the locals as a customary ritual of friendship rather than a spiritual initiation. After the interruption of forty-four (44) years, the Legazpi-Urdaneta Expedition arrived in Cebu. On April 28, 1565, the dramatic yet providential discovery (pagkakaplag) of the same wooden image in a partially scorched hut started the distinctive Christian heritage of the Philippines. The Augustinians who accompanied the journey commenced the systematic evangelization and Christianization of the islands. The subsequent foundation of the Church and Convent of the Augustinians rose on the actual site where the statuette was found. It became the central house of the Augustinians, the mother church in the Philippine Islands. The establishment of organic settlements and mission areas followed instantaneously and the pioneering evangelization gradually prospered in geographical reach and ecclesial organization despite the scarcity of missionaries. Additional religious orders were commissioned to the Philippines in successive intervals: Franciscans (1578), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587), and Augustinian Recollects (1606). Their ground-breaking missionary endeavours contributed to the Philippine identity as a predominantly Christian nation.

         The first Church and Convent dedicated to Santo Niño developed into a principalhouse of the Augustinian friars mainly in the spiritual and missionary formation, and the promotion of the devotion to the Holy Child – theadored patron, protector and inspiration. As a consequence, the Santo Niño Church grew in popularity throughout the islands both in magnificence and significance as the cradle of Philippine Christianity, and the perpetual sanctuary of the Santo Niño of Cebu. In recognition of the historical, religious and cultural importance of the Santo Niño Church and the sacred relic it keeps, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) petitioned Pope Paul VI in 1964 to confer on the Santo Niño Church the title “Basilica Minore” in time for the Fourth Centennial of the Christianization of the Philippines in 1965.The Santo Niño icon was also canonically crowned by the Papal LegateIldebrando Cardinal Antoniutti – a solemn gesture of singular honor reserved to the beloved Santo Niño. In its entirety, the Fourth Centennial Celebration overwhelmingly succeeded in engaging the entire nation, thus renewing “The Philippines for Christ” in faith, commitment and enthusiasm to live out the Gospel message.

Rationale

        In 2012, the launching of the universal Year of Faith, with the theme “Bringing the Faith to the World,” ushered in a renewed direction toward the evangelization of peoples, cultures and communities. In the Philippines, the CBCP embarks on an Era of New Evangelizationprogram culminating in the Great Jubilee Year 2021 on the occasion of the Fifth Centenary of the introduction of Christianity in the country. The Philippines envisions herself “to become a truly sending Church” as it looks forward to the 500thyear since Christianity was introduced. Nine pastoral priorities are identified; a specific priority is highlighted each year throughout the nine-year journey of renewal. The Philippines, once again, is looking ahead into another milestone in her rich heritage as a nation and as an ecclesial entity. In 2015 – which is within the nine-year renewal program – the joyfully-anticipated commemoration of the 450th year of the finding of the sacred image will transpire. Closely tied up with the occasion is the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Basilica Minore (1965-2015), dedicated to the highly-revered icon of the Philippines. In both historic episodes of Philippine Catholicism the scheduled nation-wide activities recognize with gratitude the Augustinians who are instrumental in the evangelization and Christianization of the Philippines. It is, then, essentially appropriate to widen the extent of the celebration through the national declaration of the Santo Niño Festival 2015. The year-long festivity is part of the component events of the CBCP’s nine-year new evangelization outline.

        The 450th anniversary of the discovery of the Santo Niño Image, with the formal Evangelization and Christianizationof the Philippines, marks a historic milestone in Philippine Christianity. In an extraordinary way, the Augustinians look forward to the joyful commemoration of the rewarding presence in the Philippines (1565-2015).The Basilica and the devotion to the Santo Niño are undoubtedly two significant contributions and legacy to the Philippine Church that flourished from the pioneering efforts of the earliest Augustinians to their successors. Moreover, the foundation of towns and provinces, parishes and churches, schools and other institutions is a living testament of their civic, cultural, educational and religious commitment. The planned activities are meant to pay homage to the memories of the past, celebrate the continuous engagement, and embolden the forthcoming endeavors of the Augustinians in the Philippines and beyond. The 450th commemorative festivity aims to animate the commitment to “re-evangelize” through the authentic witnessing of the shared faith. The objective is anchored on the Pastoral Letter of the CBCP on the Era of New Evangelization, “Live Christ, Share Christ.” A vibrant Church like the Philippines aspires to be more active in the universal mission by reaching out and re-evangelizing the world, especially Asia. On the national scene, the line-up of events highlights the historical, cultural, societal and religious significance – all rolled into our common heritage as a proud nation indebted to its beginnings. It is likewise an opportunity to inform the young generations for them to appreciate our colorful historical past and to deepen and concretize our sense of identity.

        The proposed celebrationson the 450thYear of the Finding of the Santo Niño statuetteand the 50th Anniversary of the Basilica Minore consist ofactivities that will be organized by the Province of Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines in collaboration with the different sectors. The Commission on Augustinian Cultural Heritage, in coordination with the Community of the Basilica,is tasked to make the proposal for submission to the Provincial and Council, who, in turn, will create an Ad Hoc Committee to do the initial planning and deliberate on the submitted proposals. The Committee initially convened on March 9, 2012 to discuss the preparatory initiatives primarily the creation of the executive and working committees who will spearhead the approved commemorative events.The composition of the Executive and Working Committees include representatives from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), national government agencies such as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA); the Augustinian Family, particularly the Vicariate of the Orient (Philippine Province), Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation (ASOLC); other Religious Congregations; the Archdiocese of Cebu, headed by His Excellency Archbishop Jose Palma, DD; local government units of Cebu, represented by the Provincial Governor and Cebu City Mayor; non-government organizations, private companies and individuals. The Executive and Steering Committees have met several times for the finalization of the calendar of activities. The projectedSanto Niño celebrations are scheduled for launching on the occasion of the 2014KaplagFestival – an annual festivity honouring and remembering the historic and providential finding of the icon of Señor Santo Niño. The year-long (2015-2016) Santo Niño Festival adapted the theme, “Santo Niño: Hope of the People.” It is likewise intended to reinvigorate the religious fervor of the faithful to the Holy Child who has favored the country and its people with abundant graces since the miraculous finding in 1565.

        Barely a month from the closing of the Santo Niño Festival in April 2016, the Philippines will host the 51stInternational Eucharistic Congress in Cebu City with the theme, “Christ in You: Our Hope of Glory.” A related event, although lesser in magnitude, transpired as well in 1965 when the 3rd National Eucharistic Congress opened in commemoration of the Fourth Centenary of the Philippine Church. The international gathering magnifies the festival’scommemorative agenda and heightens the new evangelization’s underlying motive as the Congress focuses on the centrality of the Eucharist in our Christian community. It is the collective expression of our ecclesial being gathered around the wellspring of eternal life and selfless love. Jesus Christ is indeed, in the image of the Santo Niño, the source of hope for all who are spiritually drawn by the redemptive weight of His absolute self-giving. (Fr. Arnel A. S. Dizon, O.S.A.)

Original Source:

http://basilicasantonino.org.ph/pages/kaplag.html

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