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Philippines: Santo Niño de Cebu Devotion in the Scheme of Global Evangelization 

Cofradia del Sto. Nino de Cebu Prague Chapter installed in January 14, 2024

Filipino overseas workers who grew up around families devoted to the Santo Niño de Cebu have brought faith to many places all over the world, becoming messengers of hope and peace.

The oldest and largest celebration in honor of the Santo Nio in Cebu City, Philippines, is taking place this year for the 459th time since Spanish friars first introduced the devotion in 1565, the year the Order of Saint Augustine arrived in Cebu from Spain and Mexico.

This year’s Fiesta Senyor, as the celebration is fondly called by devotees, is significant because the congregation that keeps the spirit of Saint Augustine in the Philippines marks its 40th year as a Filipino province known as the Province of the Santo Niño de Cebu, Philippines. Since December 25, 1983, the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City has been the headquarters of the 40-year-old Augustinian province, composed of 136 Filipino priests. It no longer functions as a vicariate of the Order of St. Augustine OSA, based in Spain.

Decades ago, the Fiesta Senor celebration was a religious activity. In 1980, the Fiesta Senor celebration transformed into the grand religious and massive cultural event known as Sinulog, tying it to the cultural celebration of the city. This event draws millions of devotees and local and foreign tourists, all eager to witness and experience the so-called mother of all religious celebrations in the Philippines.

Today, the Fiesta Senyor and Sinulog festivities have gone beyond Philippine borders—to many parts of the world where Filipino workers, especially Cebuanos and people from the central Philippines, have settled or are temporarily working.  For them, the Sto. Niño de Cebu devotion is part of their identity, and it goes with them to places where they find work and a new home.

According to Fr. Tito Soquiño, OSA, the role of the Augustinian Order in the scheme of global evangelization is to bring the Santo Nino de Cebu devotion beyond the borders of the Philippines. RVA interviewed him three days before his visit to Singapore for the 10th anniversary of the Sinulog celebration in Lion City.

The Sinulog celebration in Singapore, according to Fr. Soquiño, started when a Portuguese businessman visited Cebu and bought a Sto. Niño icon from the Basilica. He then gave it to his Cebuanos friends in Singapore, who later organized a weekly meet-up to pray the novena in honour of the Holy Child. The group didn’t take long to organize a religious program, capping it with a mass in the Mother of Perpetual Succor parish in Siglap Hill.

Father Provincial Andres Rivera, OSA, will officiate the celebration of the Santo Niño feast this Sunday (January 28, 2024). The organizers flew a pilgrimage image of the Holy Child from Cebu to grace the occasion. A fiesta-like activity that replicates the Sinulog festival in Cebu usually follows.

Meanwhile, Filipinos, notably Cebuanos in New York, started their annual Sinulog 23 years ago through the efforts of Mr. Jovenal “Jovi” Figura, a devotee from Cebu City.

In an online interview with Radio Veritas, Ms. Flor Ferolina Lungayan, a former journalist in Cebu City now based in New York City, said the 9-day novena prayers in honour of the Santo Niño originally started in the house of Jovi.  As the devotees grew in number, they decided to do it in the St. Patrick parish church in Long Island City, New York. 

After Jovi passed away in 2004, his wife Merlyn continued the tradition by organizing a group of fellow devotees who called themselves “Friends of Jovi” in memory of her husband, who started it all. 

The 9-day novena prayer in the St. Patrick church starts at 5 PM on the same date the novena in Cebu reels off. During the noon mass, devotees offer a mini-Sinulog dance ritual. Fellow devotees Romy Esther Rancho and Mariam Empalmado assist Merlyn. Children of devotees participate as choir members. 

According to Flor, the devotion originates from Filipino culture and enables them to navigate the challenges of working and living in a multi-cultural society.

Filipino communities in other American states celebrated many Sinulog festivities, according to online reports.

The Cofradia del Santo Nino de Cebu Prague Chapter installed itself on January 14, 2024, with a eucharistic celebration in the St. Thomas Church, an Augustinian church in Prague, Czech Republic.

Rev. Fr. Nestor B. Bandalan, Jr., OSA, Vice-Rector of the Basilica del Santo Nino de Cebu, officiated the solemn ceremony. Rev. Fr. Imman Noel Abellana, OSA, the spiritual director of the Cofradia del Santo Niño de Cebu-Prague Chapter, assisted him. This news item appeared on the Basilica del Santo Nino website on January 15, 2024.

In April last year, Filipinos living and working in different parts of Europe gathered in Milan, Italy, to take part in the feast of the Santo Niño. Thousands of devotees from France, Ireland, Switzerland, Venice and other parts of Europe traveled to Milan to join the foot procession around the streets of Milan.  Cebu Archbishop Jose S. Palma presided over a eucharistic celebration in the Milan Cathedral, aka Duomo. Afterwards, the pilgrims, in their Sinulog finery, danced in the foreground of the Duomo.

Meanwhile, online reports say the Sinulog festival has found its way across Australia, from its capital territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Victoria, to Western Australia and Tasmania. 

A picture of Filipino devotees in Russia holding a simple celebration in honor of the feast of the Holy Child indicated the global reach of the Santo Nino devotion. There are approximately 10,000 Filipinos living and working in Russia, according to online sources.

The Philippine Ambassador to Moscow, His Excellency Igor Bailen, shared a photo on social media of Filipino devotees dressed in bright Filipiniana outfits and headdresses. He said that last Sunday, a service was offered at the Church of St. Louis of the French in the Lubyanka neighbourhood.  Built in 1791, the church is one of the three operating Catholic churches in Moscow.

In his Facebook post, Ambassador Bailen thanked the Filipino community in Moscow for inviting him to join the Sinulog celebration. He capped his social media update with, “Pit Senyor!” - Malou Guanzon-Apalisok


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.