Blessed Child of God: Celebrating Señor Santo Niño de Cebú with Filipino Catholic community
BEDFORD — Radiating warmth, welcome, and a window into a vibrant culture, the growing Filipino community at St. Michael Parish in Bedford hosted a bright feast day celebration for Señor Santo Niño de Cebú on Jan. 20.
The joyful evening began with a long indoor procession through the parish halls. Dancers bedecked in traditional costume led the procession with a lifted altar bearing the image of Santo Niño and smiling local Hermana Mayores (organizers of the local prayer group) following close behind leading the Rosary.
Later, as families entered the church, parishioners placed personal statues and images of Santo Niño on a small table before the altar to be blessed during the Mass. Throughout the Mass, a choir, dressed in red, sang hymns in Tagalog.
The Filipino community, which began “like a mustard seed,” is growing at St. Michael, where the love for God is motivating the faithful, said parish pastor Father Vijaya Raju Mareedu, SAC.
During the Holy Mass, which he concelebrated with Father Philip Neri Lastimosa, OCist., Fr. Mareedu spoke in his homily of the cultural significance Santo Niño holds for the Filipino community. The devotion, he said, is “particularly dear to the Filipinos, for this is the first image that set foot on Philippine soil and is the concrete historical icon that marks the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines.”
“The image of Santo Niño,” Fr. Mareedu continued, “is a clear expression of our belief in the God made man. This devotion is very much in line with the Lord’s exultation in the Gospel, ‘Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.’ (Mark 10:15). The image of Santo Niño conveys to us the important lesson of becoming childlike in order to enter God’s kingdom… God is still calling people in the modern times just as God called people in the biblical times.”
A testament to the power of the celebrated saint, the budding community of Filipino Catholics is flourishing at St. Michael.
June Jovero recalled that when she first approached Fr. Mareedu about organizing a group, he told her to “just start, even if you have one or two people there, people will come once you get everything started,” she recalled.
Whereas she initially worried if even one or two would join her in her devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in a weekly novena, she is now joined by upwards of sixty families who have joined her in prayer. The group meets every Wednesday to pray the Rosary, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
“With the support of Father Vijay, and all the priests here at St. Michael’s, we were able to really pull everyone together. And that’s because of our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help,” Jovero said.
And while the group has seen tremendous growth since its start, Jovero states that its members have now grown ambitious with its success in bringing together people to foster their faith and nurture their culture.
“We said, ‘Hey, you know what? Let’s make it fun,’” she said. Their focus now is to “continue with our devotion and keep in touch with our culture and bring in the younger generation.”
“We feel like our kids are staying away from the Church, so we want to bring them back,” Jovero continued. “We want them to be in touch with their culture. We want them to see that, and also to remind all the generations, that, hey, we have this. We’re continuing with our devotions from the Philippines to here.”
This is how, along with dentists and doctors, a small group of teenagers became some of the principal dancers of the cheerful Señor Santo Niño Festival which was held after the Holy Mass.
The partnership, Jovero said, is something the group treasures. “We have the older generation, and we have the younger generation. They will all be dancing in this cultural show.” In all, there were three dance performances: the Cariñosa dance, the Karilagan Dancer’s Bulaklakan dance, and the Tinikling dance.
Along with their budding dance group is a choir that Jovero one day hopes to sing at a Sunday Mass. Until then, she hopes the community would continue to grow. “If we can increase our devotion and if we can get all Filipinos together, we achieve what we’re here for.”
Outside of Bedford, other Filipino Catholic communities within the diocese are growing. A parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Grapevine, Buddy Del Mar, described how he’s helped several prayer groups get started in their devotion in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A prayer group is made up of twelve families, he said, and two families per month hold the responsibility of keeping the image of Señor Santo Niño and organizing the prayer services. “Then, the following month,” Del Mar said, “the image will go to another family’s place where they’ll hold the novena.”
The groups continued to grow so big that more and more have formed, Del Mar said. Families “join us in our prayer group, and then they said, ‘We would like to have another group,’ and I said, ‘Okay, if you can gather three or four families that will accept the image [of Santo Niño], I will go home to the Philippines and then I’ll bring the image back here.’”
Now, he’s in touch with more than twenty prayer groups in the area. What keeps them growing, he said, are the miracles and stories of God’s works in their lives.
“It’s a miracle. That’s Jesus. That’s God,” Del Mar said. “He can do things that we wouldn't know. He does it mysteriously, and it's just like, me also, it happens to me, but it's like, whether you believe it or not, there are so many people that are being touched by [the presence of Christ].”