Ketchup and the Sto Nino

17 January 2010. Feast of the Sto. Nino de Cebu
Proper Feast in the Philippines: 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 9, 1-6; Psalm 97; Ephesians 1, 3-18; Luke 2, 41-52


We do know that ketchup is a condiment best used on top of hotdog and burger sandwiches, or as a dip for potato fries and fried chicken. But our ever-present favorite has other unusual uses. It can help remove the chlorine smell of your hair after your dip at the pool, or restore the shine of your copper or silverware.

What has this to do with our devotion to the Child Jesus? Well, we will try to find new twists on a tradition. Like an update or a make-over. Like ketchup. We will not let you debunk the ketchup from your chicken, but we will try to see if ketchup is also good with crackers, so to speak.

Let’s begin with what we have: the ketchup for fried chicken. Popular devotion to the Child Jesus is global. We have the Infant Jesus of Prague, The Child Jesus in Egypt, the Santo Niño de Atocha, the Bambino de Araceoli, the Holy Child of Remedy and our Santo Niño de Cebu. In the Philippines, we celebrate the Santo Niño with pomp and pageantry. We dance on the streets at the Ati-Atihan Festival in Aklan and the Sinulog in Cebu.

Despite the great show, the root of these activities is religious. We celebrate the coming of Catholic Christianity to the Philippines. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to the island of Cebu. King Humabon and Queen Juana accepted him warmly. In the event of Queen Juana’s baptism, Magellan gave the wooden statue of the Santo Niño to her. As a token of friendship, Magellan and the Spaniards fought side by side against a common enemy of King Humabon. Magellan died in that battle. On the second return of the Spaniards to the Philippines in 1565, the Cebuanos fought against the Spaniards fearing the foreigners return was to avenge Magellan's death. In the battle that ensued, a Spanish soldier found the wooden statue of the Child Jesus. Since many miracles were attributed to the statue, the Sto Nino became the patron saint of Cebu.

As it is today, the devotion to the Child Jesus is mixed with all other things. Many come to ask for favors since the statue is miraculous. In the Basilica de Sto Niño de Cebu in Osmeña where the core of the celebration lies, middle-aged women are willing to dance the favors you ask --- in exchange for a few pesos. But many in the crowd do not come with a request to ask the Child, they come to be part of the pageantry.

But ketchup, as we discovered, can also remove chlorine-damaged hair, and brighten up your copper and silver implements. The same thing with the devotion. As a religious event, our main focus is always Jesus. But the truth is, the “child” Jesus is not anymore a child: He died at 33 years old. The One source of all these miracles attributed to the Sto. Nino, is a mature adult. Once we become aware of the root of the revelry, we begin to be aware of several unusual purposes.

The devotion to the Child Jesus is always in view of adulthood and maturity. That faith is a process; we continue to grow in the wisdom of God. Like Jesus when he was young, the Gospel tells us, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” (Luke 2, 52). While acquiring the childLIKE qualities that constitute maturity, he grew in wisdom and age.

First, if our faith has been introduced centuries ago, has it developed into a faith that transforms our society? Why is it that the Philippines which is the only Catholic country in Asia continues to be one of the world’s most corrupt? The leaders are mostly Catholic. If we have this genuine devotion to the Sto. Nino, this is the time to assess our faith. Our faith is truly sincere and simple. It is genuine and strong to create a distinctively Catholic culture, but it has not transform us. We keep the faith through popular religious practices, but many of us Filipinos are not able to account of what we believe. This religious ignorance makes Filipino Catholics vulnerable to the teachings of aggressive groups. In this sense, our faith continues to be infantile. We need an informed faith.

Second, if our faith has been with us and permeating our culture and society, why is it that it has not been sufficiently social. It is true that our faith has created communities. Look at the Sinulog and the various Eucharistic celebrations, novenas, fiesta celebrations and Catholic organizations. They are “forms of community togetherness” (PCP II).

But our faith does not move us to BUILD Christian communities. In some areas, the parishes are not experienced as a Christian community, but as a service station that caters to individual’s religious needs. For example, baptism, weddings and funerals. In fact many of those who attend these events, rarely come to Sunday mass.

Moreover, the faith has not served as a moving force to motivate the sharing of possessions and action for justice in society. The Church does not say much about pertinent issues, or else any preaching about issues is seen as an encroachment to Church and state. In the Philippines, the effect is thus the Church is seen as a power block in politics than as a teacher of Christian truth in political matters. In this sense, the faith that was introduced more than five hundred years ago remains infantile and childish. If the faith has to mature, it should become a social faith.

Let me end with ketchup. We need to shift paradigms. Ketchup with fried chicken is fine. But ketchup with other uses makes ketchup more important and relevant. If ketchup can clean our hair and brighten our silverware, perhaps, faith too can repair our damaged system and brighten up our lives.