Tuesday, January 31, 2012


If you’ve visited enough Filipino homes, one feature will stand out – the family altar. And among the many different religious images you may see, chances you will find one of the Infant Jesus, the Sto. Nino, the patron of countless Filipinos.

“They say the Sto. Nino is miraculous,” said Noel Padua, “and he has given us many. He brought us here to America.”

January is the feast month of the Sto. Nino. The original icon is reputedly the oldest in the Philippines, a gift from the explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon in 1521. Believed to be crafted in Belgium, it earned its venerated standing after surviving a large fire 1565. It is the only religious image protected by bulletproof glass in the Basilica of Cebu City.

Pope Innocent XIII designated in the early 18th century the third Sunday of January as the feast of the Sto. Nino so it doesn’t conflict with the 40-day celebration of Easter.

Few religious icons can rival the Filipinos’ reverence to the Sto. Nino. Norma Simmons has had her Sto. Nino since she arrived in the United States in 1969. She bought the image in Divisoria, Simmons recalled.

“We have the Sto. Nino so God is always with us, to give us health and keep the people we love,” she told the Manila Mail.

A native of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, Simmons ascribe many “miracles” in her life to the image of the Infant Jesus and another favorite patron, St. Peter, including meeting her husband, who was then with the US Air Force.

“When you travel, you need a guide to watch over you,” she said. “Morning, noon and night, I see Nino and he gives me good spirit. I feel God and the angels are watching over me.”

She lived for 32 years in the Metro DC area and 8 years in Sta. Clarita, California with her father, now 90 years old. “I have a son here and a granddaughter so I had to go back,” he explained, adding they are building a house in Woodbridge, Virginia.

“Ever since we were kids, we already had the Sto. Nino in our home,” Padua revealed.

“We’re used to having him at home,” pointing to his family’s foot-and-a-half tall “Ninong gala” (roughly translated as the “roving child”) – the version ascribed with the most childlike qualities.

The typical Sto. Nino image is small and adorned in gold-encrusted robes. The “Ninong gala” is usually dressed in more casual attire, often in boy’s clothes although some dress them to show their professions – policemen, nurses, engineers – or identity like an image garbed in Barong Tagalog.

“We dress him up every now and then, about every month especially when there are special occasions like this,” he explained. One accessory that helps distinguish the “Ninong gala” is the pouch he usually carries.

“There’s money inside,” explained Padua’s wife Virginia with some amusement, “just in case he needs some candies”.

It’s not unusual for owners to have a seemingly personal relationship with their Sto. Nino image. Padua’s mother, Anita said it was her wish to bring her two sons to the US. “If I request anything from him, he grants it,” she revealed.

She said she’s almost blind “but when I ask for his help, my eyesight brightens up a bit.”

Anita admits she may be just imagining her Sto. Nino’s healing power but she believes her prayers have staved off going totally blind. “My devotion has made me strong,” she stressed.

“Here I am. I’m now 78 years old and I am often all alone at home, just me and the Sto. Nino so we take care of each other,” she said.

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