The Parish Community of St. Augustine of Hippo – A Mirror of Santo Niño: Cause of Our Unity and Charity

The Augustinian friars, Fr. Johnny Valdez (Center), Parish Priest of St. Mark, and the team of volunteers in the Pilgrimage of Santo Nino de Cebu enjoy camaraderie and the local delicacies at the convent of Saint Mark Parish in Cabarroguis, Quirino.

Naimbag nga begat kenyayu! (Good morning to all of you!)

Mangantayon! (Let’s eat!)

Agyamanak! (Thank you!)

These are some of the Ilocano words I have learned in my three day stay in our Parish Community of Saint Augustine of Hippo in Saguday, Quirino Province last February 7-9, 2020. I was privileged to visit this community because I was invited by my confrere Fr. Exuper Lumintac, OSA, the Parish Priest, to give a talk about the Santo Niño de Cebu and to be the mass presider and homilist of their feast of the Santo Niño which they call the Panaguidaton Festival. More than these Ilocano words, I am so blessed to witness and learn how the theme of this year’s feast “Santo Nino: Cause of Our unity and Charity” is mirrored in this simple parish.

The Parish Community of Saint Augustine of Hippo

The Parish Community of Saint Augustine of Hippo in Saguday, Quirino is under the stewardship of the friars of the Order of St. Augustine for the past seven years. Fr. Exuper Lumintac, OSA is the present Parish Priest and he is accompanied by four Augustinian priests and three Simply Professed Friars. Although the Augustinian friars started the evangelization of Bayombong in 1739, this parish was founded by the CICM missionaries and was later handed over to the Diocesan Clergy. Due to the lack of priests in the diocese, the stewardship and care of the souls were given to the Augustinian friars. This offer was formally accepted during the Augustinian Provincial Chapter of 2012 assigning Fr. Sesenio Paderog, OSA and Fr. Tarquin Gamao, OSA as pioneer Augustinian missionaries to this parish. Aside from assisting the diocesan clergy, this commitment of the Augustinians to the people in Saguday is also part of the revival of our former mission areas in the northern part of the Philippines. Through the hard work of the community of Saguday, friars and guidance of the Santo Niño, the structures of the church and convent expanded together with the growth of the faith of the parishioners and even the entire diocese of Bayombong. Another sign of its growth is the expansion of the care of the friars to the parish in Vintar, Ilocos Norte. A big part of their ministry in this part of the Philippines is the propagation of the devotion to Señor Santo Niño de Cebu.

Señor Santo Niño de Cebu Visits Saguday

The image of Señor Santo Niño de Cebu is the oldest symbol of Christianity in the Philippines. It is believed that this image which is presently housed at the Basilica del Santo Niño de Cebu was the same image brought by Magellan in 1521 and was given as a gift to the Queen of Cebu during her baptism. This means that in 2021, the Philippine Church will celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Introduction of Christianization in the Philippines and the 500th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Santo Niño in the Philippines.

It is for this reason that the pilgrim image of the Santo Nino de Cebu was also in Saguday for a pilgrimage to 500 chosen churches and places in the country and in other parts of the world. Aside from Saguday, the image also visited the Cathedral and other parishes in the Diocese of Bayombong. One of the things that I appreciated most in these visits of the Pilgrim Image was the catechism that was done by the friars in order that the faith of the people is guided and deepened. In addition, a sharing among the devotees and friars of their experience of how they have been touched by the presence of the Santo Niño in their lives is also an essential moment to know more the face of God beyond the colors and gesture of the sacred image. I am so privileged to hear the personal stories of the friars and parishioners which enabled me to see the depth of their faith experience. This pilgrimage organized by the Augustinians is aimed to create more awareness of the celebration and the growth of the devotion to the God who became like us in the image of a Holy Child, the Santo Nino. My experience in this visit made me say that these objectives were achieved. (Visit this link to know more about the activities related to the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Arrival of Santo Nino in the Philippines. https://www.santonino500.com/)

God Unites with Us

The participation of the lay people and clergy from the parish of St. Augustine and nearby parishes during the fiesta celebration showed me what unity means in action in the parish and in the diocese. Each sector contributed their time, resources and talents in making the fiesta celebration successful. The bishop of the diocese and the diocesan clergy warmly welcomed the image in the cathedral and in their parish churches with dance presentations, food, prayers and Eucharistic celebration. They were drawn in unity with each other because they can testify in their lives how the Lord in the image of the Santo Nino united with them through the many stories of healing and blessings like passing the board exams, getting a new job, conversions, spiritual liberation and overcoming difficulties that were seemingly hopeless to them. The Lord united with them concretely in their lives through the graces they received. The word “Emmanuel,” (God with us), is alive and materialized in their midst. And because of these experiences of God uniting and journeying with them, they were also drawn to unite and journey with each other in service, prayer and thanksgiving. The God who united with them empowered them to make unity a reality. This experience taught me clearly that indeed the Santo Nino is the cause of unity.

Unity as Practice of Charity

The unity that the community in Saguday showed is is a concrete expression of their charity. The practice of charity in a community is verified in the quality of unity of the people. Without unity, there is no charity and without charity, there is also no unity. Saint Augustine, the Spiritual Founder of the Augustinians, gives primacy in community life because community is the school of charity. He wrote these opening words in his Rule,

“The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.”

The Rule of St. Augustine, 1.3

The participation and cooperation of the people in the parish community of Saguday showed me how they put into practice the virtue of charity. They showed charity because they experienced first the charity of God to the people in Saguday. They were very thankful that God sent them holy friars who would serve them and guide them in their journey to God. One parishioner shared with me how thankful he is with the presence of the Augustinian friars because through them God manifested to them in concrete his unconditional love. The local government even commended how the friars responded to the needs of the people when a strong typhoon struck their town and many of the houses were destroyed. The friars did not only take care of their spiritual needs. They also took care of their practical needs. The visit of the pilgrim image in the parish community of Saguday was a concrete expression of charity to his people. He loved them so much that he wanted to be with them wherever his people are. The God in the image of the Santo Niño is not a God who just stayed in the altar of his beautiful basilica. On the contrary, we have a God who goes out to reach his people in far flung places because of his unconditional charity. These expressions of charity that they experienced in their lives enabled the people of Saguday to share charity with each other. This virtue of charity is reflected in the name of their festival in honor of Santo Niño which is an Ilocano word Panaguidaton which literally means “sharing” and “giving.” They have been so blessed that they wanted to share these abundant blessings to others in charity. Without a doubt, this experience taught me that the Santo Niño is also the cause of our charity.

A Spiritual Pilgrimage

As I go back to my community at the Nuestra Señora de Gracia parish in Makati, I can say that my visit to the Parish Community in Saguday, Quirino was a spiritual pilgrimage. During my stay, the Lord through the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu revealed to me how powerful God is in His vulnerability and how loving he is in spite of our doubts and infidelities. I am thankful that my brother Fr. Exuper invited me to give a talk with the aim of enabling the people there to appreciate the devotion and deepen their faith. But, I am more thankful that his invitation actually enabled me to appreciate the devotion and deepen my faith as a devotee and priest. In reality, I really did not teach something to the people. It was the people who taught me an important lesson that I will continue to bring in my heart. They taught me in their lives that Santo Niño is our cause of unity and charity. As I was brought by a parishioner to the bus station in Santiago, he shared with me,

Father, napakaganda po nang tema natin kasi ito na po ay sinasalamin ng ating parokya.” (Father, our theme is so beautiful because it is mirrored in the life of our parish.)

Inspired by his words, I hope to mirror this in my own life too as I continue my spiritual pilgrimage with my brothers in my community.

Agyamanak Saguday! (Thank you Saguday!)

Viva Pit Senyor!

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