There are many stories of healing miracles that have been attributed to the image of Señor Santo Nino de Cebu. These miracle stories are significant for the devotees because they are the “why of the devotion, or the reason for its perpetuation.”(Astrid Sala-Boza) Some of these stories which were handed down from generations of devotees were compiled in a book entitled Legends of Santo Niño de Cebu by Manuel Enriquez de la Calzada. Originally written in Cebuano, this compilation of stories was translated into English by Martin Abellana and was published in 1965. Other stories of healing miracles were also gathered in a Doctoral Dissertation of Astrid Sala-Boza entitled A Formal-Functional Study of the Señor Santo Niño de Cebu in an Ethnohistorical Perspective. I would like to share with you some of these stories of healing because they give us a glimpse of how the devotees perceive God as the Divine Healer in the midst of sickness and epidemic. I hope to learn from the faith of the devotees to trust in God especially at this time that many people are suffering and in fear because of the outbreak of a deadly corona virus which already taken the lives of many people.
The Image of Señor Santo Niño de Cebu is the Christ-Child and King
The image of the Señor Santo Niño is the depiction of Jesus as a child and as a King that had become intimately connected with the Filipino faith. Jesus’ childhood portrays God’s love to humanity that He became like us in all things except sin. Aside from being a Child, the Santo Niño is also Señor because he is also a king whose kingship reveals to us His dominion over all creation. The original image of Santo Niño which you can visit at the Basilica del Santo Niño de Cebu in Cebu City is believed to be the oldest among all the images of the Santo Niño in the Philippines. Historical records reveal that it is the image brought by Magellan in 1521 and was given as a baptismal gift to the Queen of Cebu. It was during this time that the seed of Christianity was planted in the hearts of our forebears. From this seed, Christianity continues to grow making the Philippines one of the predominantly Catholic countries in Asia. This image of the Santo Niño is historically documented from the time that it was given to the Queen of Cebu and the time that it was discovered forty four years later by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. Aside from this original image of the Santo Niño de Cebu, there are also replicas of the image which have also been attributed with stories of healing miracles.
The Healing of Humabon’s Nephew
Rajah Humabon was the Rajah of Cebu during the arrival of Magellan in the Philippines in 1521. There was a time when Humabon’s nephew was gravely ill. The natives were so concerned with the illness of Humabon’s nephew that they sacrificed to their pagan idols and prayed for his healing. Magellan corrected this practice and extolled them to burn all their idols and pray to Jesus Christ represented in the image of the Santo Niño. Magellan himself had great faith in the healing power of Christ that he told the natives that they could cut off his head if the prince would not be cured by their faith. A procession was then organized from the square to the prince’s house. When they arrived at the prince’s house, Humabon’s nephew was baptized and then later recovered from his illness. The prince spoke and declared that he had been cured by God. This healing that happened to him was also experienced by other natives who prayed to God through the image of the Santo Niño. Many natives asked to be baptized to the Christian faith because of these experiences of healing that they attributed to the Santo Niño.
Epidemic on Children in Humabon’s Kingdom
A story is also told about the epidemic that killed many children in Humabon’s kingdom. Children had fever and experienced vomiting of blood. The people went to mananambal (quack doctors) to heal their children. The many herbs and roots of trees that they used to cure their children did not help. The people became desperate and did not know what to do to address the situation. They were devastated by the epidemic and loud cries of the family members can be heard in the Kingdom. Queen Juana heard the cry of one of the mothers and went to her house without telling anyone. She asked the mother to bring the affected children to the room where the image of the Santo Niño was. The children were placed on a bamboo bed before the altar of the Santo Niño. Then the Queen left them. After a while, the vomiting of the children stopped and they were healed. The parents were filled with joy that they shouted, “O Miraculous Image! We thank you with all our hearts for the miracle you have just done.”
Cholera Epidemic of 1883
There was also the story of the worst cholera epidemic in the history of Cebu which happened in 1883. Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe diarrhea which can lead to dehydration and death. This is caused by the consumption of contaminated food and water. The epidemic ravaged the city and the neighboring towns for the months of September, October and November. The government, the church and the people of Cebu helped together in stopping the spread of the disease. They campaigned for proper sanitation and hygiene among the people of Cebu. In addition, there were also “auroras” where the images of San Roque, San Vicente and the Holy Cross were carried around the streets of the city and in the barrios with people following and reciting the Holy Rosary. In the afternoons, the people from different walks of life would pray together in churches begging the Lord to stop this dreadful disease. Auroras with the image of the Holy Child were also held particularly in places where many people were affected by the disease. During the processions, the Litany of the Saints was recited and the gozos of the Santo Niño was sang. The processions ended at the San Agustin Church where the Holy Mass was celebrated. After the mass, the people danced the sinulog and also kissed the feet of the holy image. One time the dancing and the kissing were stopped because a very cold and tempestous wind blew from the mountains. This was soon followed by a heavy downpour that flooded many places in Cebu. After the heavy rain, the spread of the dreaded disease stopped. The people attributed this deliverance from the disease to the Santo Niño. As a an expression of thanksgiving, a mass officiated by the Bishop of Cebu was held in San Agustin and was attended by government dignitaries and a big crowd of grateful Cebuanos.
Jesus Christ is the Healer
Jesus Christ represented in the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu performed a lot of healing miracles in the Scriptures. These miracles demonstrate that He has power over creation and that He is confirming that indeed the Kingdom of God has come. Thus, the Santo Niño is not just an image of a cute little child but also a powerful king who has dominion over all creation. When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus assures John that He is the anointed one by telling him of the miracles that he has done: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:3-5) It is to be noted that these healing miracles were not just done by Jesus to heal physical illnesses. They were done so that we may know more who Jesus is and the Kingdom of God that God is offering to us. The spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser says that Jesus healed the blind so that they may see more deeply. He made the lame walk so that they may walk in freedom. He made the deaf hear so that they may hear God’s word. The dead are raised so that they may have new life. The healing miracles of Jesus invite us to see that life is more than just the difficulties we experience. It is also about living a life with God in the midst of the difficulties and crisis we experience.
Some Insights from the Stories of Healing
Today we are again faced with the challenge of an outbreak and natural disasters. This situation caused us to be anxious about our safety. The stories that we have shared above can give us three insights that can be helpful in facing these difficulties. The first one is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Once there is acknowledgement of the problem, people can start moving forward in finding ways to address the problem. This acknowledgement of the problem can also open ourselves to ask for assistance from other people who can help us better in these difficult situations. Denial of the dangers and the magnitude of the problem in order to protect our own interests can lead to more and bigger problems. The second insight that we can learn is the importance of cooperation. Natural disasters can be devastating to us. But, I believe we can be bigger than these disasters when we join hands together in helping one another. The relief efforts and the contribution of the different sectors of our society in the recent eruption of Taal volcano is a witness to the power of cooperation. The third and the last insight we can learn from these stories is the importance of our faith in God. It is important that we need to do everything that we can to mobilize our people and to act to address these disasters and outbreak. In addition to these actions, it is also equally important that we do not forget to pray to God to guide and to strengthen us in our efforts. The stories of healing that we have shared are reminders to all of us that we are never alone in our difficulties. Faith reminds us that we have a God who cares and is with us even in times of disasters and outbreak.