Every devotee to the Santo Niño has a Santo Niño story to share. It is this story together with one’s simple faith that keep a devotee in coming to Cebu to say and dance a prayer in Sinulog. It could be a story on how a person was healed through the Santo Niño. Or this story could be how a person’s wish was granted through his prayers. Like the other million devotees who flock to Cebu on the feast of the Santo Niño, I have also my own Santo Niño story. This story is about my calling to the Augustinian life and priesthood.
I consider my calling to the Augustinian life and the priesthood as my Santo Niño story. It is because I believe my Augustinian priestly vocation is a miracle of the Santo Niño in my life. When I was in my elementary years, I dreamed of the Santo Niño. I saw Him in my dream and He said these words to me, “Serve the Lord.” I didn’t give much attention to it during that time for it was only a dream. Besides, I was aware that there were many ways of serving the Lord aside from the priesthood. Although I must admit that it also came to my mind that perhaps the Santo Niño was calling me to become a priest through that dream. I was already an altar boy during that time and also thought of the possibility of becoming a priest one day. However, this thought of becoming a priest was put aside when I started my high school life. I became preoccupied with my rock band, friends and the struggles of making ends meet in my studies. When I reached third year high school, I attempted to become a soldier. I was not accepted because I was still under the required age. During my fourth year, a number of seminarians from different congregations visited us and invited us to join them after high school. Out of curiosity, I took all the entrance exams given by these different congregations and I passed in their exams. I really did not immediately decide to enter the seminary because the thought of becoming a priest was not that strong during that time. My decision to join the Augustinians came when I shared with a priest my dream about the Santo Niño. Without hesitation, he told me, “You will be an Augustinian. The Augustinians are the caretakers of the original image of the Santo Niño.” This sounded very imposing on me. Yet, I tried to discern if this was really for me. So I went to Cebu to join the search-in program facilitated by the Augustinian Vocation Promoters. I was so touched when I arrived at the Basilica del Santo Niño for the search-in. There I saw the original image of the Santo Niño who once told me in a dream, “Serve the Lord.” My feelings of joy were overwhelming for at last I am in the holy ground of the birth of this devotion in the Philippines. This is the devotion which I grew up with in Surigao. And now without expecting it, I am already in His sanctuary. The hospitality and friendliness of the friars who welcomed me made me at home at the Basilica where I stayed for three days. During my stay, I met new friends who became my companions in the seminary. That memorable moment became the start of my adventure in the Augustinian way of life. With God’s grace, I received the gift of Solemn Profession and received the immense gift of the priesthood in the Order of St. Augustine.
Now, I can’t believe that I am already ten years in ministry as an Augustinian priest! Looking back at my life as a priest and an Augustinian religious, I can say that I am happy serving the Lord in this way of life in spite of the many challenges in my journey. The habit that I received and the ordination bestowed on me did not take away the reality that I am sinful and weak. I am so blessed that God sent me people to accompany me along the way especially during times of difficulties. At difficult times, I had doubts if I was really called for the priesthood. One time, I lifted all these difficulties in prayer. After a while in that prayer, I couldn’t help but shed tears. These tears did not flow from my eyes because I got an explanation why I became a priest. While asking God in tears and bended knees on what am I supposed to do, I was just reminded of my dream of the Santo Niño telling me “serve the Lord” and my response to serve Him in the priesthood during my ordination.
This is my Santo Niño story that I continue to cherish and give thanks especially when His feast day comes. I am sure you also have your own wonderful stories with the Christ Child. I hope you can also share them too. Thank you!
Viva Pit Señor!