Life! Pluperfect

Forgotten Memories – Part XV

INTERNATIONAL focus was on Cebu in April 1965 for the celebration of the 4th centennial of the Christianization of the Philippines, and the Far East. The festivities were centered on the Santo Niño.

It was recalled that in 1521, Magellan had come to Cebu and given the image of the Santo Niño to Cebu’s Queen Juana when she was baptized. Upon the death of Magellan in Mactan the expedition returned to Spain but the Santo Niño remained.

In 1565, 44 years later, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was able to
retrace Magellan’s voyage and came to Cebu where he and his men found the Santo Niño. A chapel, then a church, was built on the spot and the first formal evangelization of the Philippines was started by Spain in Cebu.

That was what was being celebrated in Cebu on April 1965. Two years before preparations had started. There was a proposal to demolish the centuries old church to build a grand concrete church. The scale model was even presented during a dinner at the Hotel Magellan.

Cebuanos were indignant and the press was up in arms. I was at that time already writing a column for Pedro Calomarde’s Morning Times. It was decided to restore and renovate San Agustin Church for the 1965 ceremonies, and even that caused some commentary. Why not leave the relic from the past as it was?

Pope Paul VI sent a Papal Legate in the person of Cardinal Antoniutti to preside the IV Centennial events. He had a similarity with His Holiness and the people thought he was the Pope himself.

San Agustin Church was then dedicated as the Basilica del Santo Niño. The revered image was put on an altar shrine in what had before been a storage room adjoining the sacristy. A magnificent altar was built and there you see the Santo Niño at all times. When someone tried to shoot the image bullet proof glass was put.

There were many events held, like the canonical coronation of the Santo Niño with a royal crown of gold and diamonds. It was the highlight of an Eucharistc Congress. Myriad cultural events were also held.

From that time on the devotion to the Santo Niño increased as pilgrims came from all over the Philippines, and abroad. People overflowed from the Basilica during services, and so a pilgrim center was built where the Colegio del Santo Niño football field used to be.

I often visited the Basilica, specially to offer masses which Bernie carefully recorded in a book. Bernie was the girl who since time immemorial helped run the store at the Basilica, first in a small room, and later in what was the school’s Music Room.

Since 1967 I worked for a Swedish firm that handled cold welding for machinery. Every time we reached our planned target of sales, I went to Bernie for a mass to be said in thanksgiving.

If I recall right it must have been in December 1983 when I was at the Basilica and I met Mrs. Mary Ouano on the wide corridor leading to the staircase. She said she was there to offer her family’s wharf and ship for the fluvial procession of the Santo Niño in January 1984. And so it was.

Now, the fluvial procession is a grandiose event. At that time we went in the early morning to have breakfast at the Ouano home and from there watch the Santo Niño board the flag and flower decked ship made to simulate a caravelle. The we’d go to Pier Uno for the arrival in Cebu City.

Cecilia and I got married in September 1984 in Spain, and came to Cebu by the end of October. We wanted to have a child soon as I was 42 and Cecilia, 37. On the Saturday of the Santo Niño procession we went down to Magallanes street and positioned ourselves in front of the “carroza” of the Santo Niño.

Cecilia had watched the candle vendors dancing the Sinulog and made her own steps dancing in front of the Santo Niño as she prayed for a baby. Our elder son Jimmy was born that year 1985 on December 2. Louis came a year later on December 4, 1986.

As they grew up they often came with me everywhere I went. Sometimes we brought VIPs, among them diplomats to see the Santo Niño. The day came when I brought Spanish Ambassador Herminio Morales and his wife Maria Dolores in November 1991.

Ambassador Morales asked me to become the Honorary Consul of Spain in Cebu. I thanked him and recommended some one with more resources, but he declined, and so it was me. I was grateful for the confidence he put on me.

The papers took some time to process but I was in no hurry. The official appointment came on October 1993. I was told to keep mum about it until Ambassador Morales had chosen the day to come to Cebu for the installation ceremony.

He chose the Monday after Sinulog 1994 which meant that he and his wife, along with a large group of friends were coming on the Friday previous to be there for the Fiesta del Santo Niño.

On the morning of the Saturday procession I welcomed them to the Basilica and led them to a private room where stood the Santo Niño dressed in full regalia and guarded by a large police dog.

Ambassador Morales left the group and came with me to pay a call on Cardinal Ricardo Vidal. He also attended the traditional lunch at the Miranda home.

My installation on January 17 at Montebello was a big event more people than expected attended and the Ambassador in his speech paid me a great compliment. He said I was an “Hidalgo,” which means Noble.

TAGS: Basilica del Santo Niño, Christianization, Colegio del Santo Niño, evangelization, Juana, Magellan, Morning Times, Philippines, Queen Juana, santo nino
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