Monday, January 21, 2008


On the Cebu Sto. Nino Devotion and Celebrations
N.B. I write on my experience as a first-time Sinulog reluctant but converted reveler on the last day of my stay before I return to Manila.

The plane that brought me to Cebu was already, in itself, a foretaste of what was to come. Exactly a week ago, 14 January, I took one of PAL’s early flights from Manila to Cebu. It turned out to be what I observed to be a connecting flight of Balikbayans from some place colder at this time of year. Judging from the semi-sleep starved, but at the same time, excited looks on the faces of more than middle-aged couples with younger versions of themselves in tow, a number of whom sported complexions and hair colors that the miracles of glutathione and Vicky Belo-ish attempts at extreme makeovers just could not have possibly done, I was in an international flight that was bringing home Sinulog revelers and Sto Nino devotees from many miles away the world over.

I did not mind being crammed in a packed Airbus 320 … no … the smell of mixed plebeian and otherwise expensive perfumes did not bother someone who is allergic sick to scents of any kind. I joined the bandwagon of excitement that filled the airplane’s main cabin.

It was obvious that people were not merely going to Cebu, like I was … They were going home … home to a city and a province madly in love with the Senor Santo Nino and what it has come to represent and mean for all of them – something that I would not see and discover until yesterday’s climactic and hair-raising experience of Sinulog fever!

As curious as I was a little incredulous, I did a little research. In between talks I had to give, given the wired connectivity of the Sisters I was preaching to, I surfed the internet for information. And what I saw surprised me. What I saw began my ongoing education about the religious and cultural richness that Sinulog has become over the past more than 20 years!

For one thing, the legends and myths that are attached to the miraculous image that Cebuanos so dearly love, have to do with an avowed dedication to home, a fervent attachment to what el Senor Santo Nino has always considered “home” – Cebu. Legends have it that for a number of times, the authorities then thought of bringing the statue to Manila. They tried to … and failed at least three times. They even cut off the limbs at some point … but in vain. The statue stayed stolid and stable right where it chose to consider its permanent home.

And home is where it has stayed for 422 years. And home is where planeloads and shiploads of devotees and revelers, including fake, converted Johnny-come-latelies like this writer, is where they decided to do a grand homecoming of sorts.

The high point of the celebration took place on the day itself. Prepared for fittingly with novenas and round-the-clock Masses in, around, out, and in joyous sympathetic celebrations with the Basilica Minore, its real home for good, Cebu flared out in a burst of colors, sounds, and explosions of passionate religious dedication, revelry, singing and pageantry that only Cebuanos could do. A fluvial parade framed picture perfect by two bridges that connected Mactan to Cebu mainland, gave the opening salvo to the massive outflowing of devotion-cum-secular celebration the day before. Prior to that, dawn masses, dawn processions, and well-celebrated Masses everywhere hammered on the theme chosen, and drove people’s expectations and spirit to the hilt.

The Sunday, the day of the feast itself, was a big fiesta that was a “sulog” as “dako” as one could not imagine. It was a big wave (sulog) threatening to engulf all those who worked so hard, and prepared so much to realize, such that if it were not to happen, a huge wave of intense celebrations would inundate Cebu province and city all the same. And indeed, despite all the rains that poured and water that rendered every nook abd cranny of Cebu sodden and soggy, the wave of enthusiasm and the spirit of celebration had become one unstoppable huge wave of human pathos and panache that simply had to take place – come rain or shine, come hell or high water.

This converted reveler joined the surging waves of humanity late in the day. Going to Abellana sports stadium was World Youth Day 1995 experience overwhelming me with a sense of déjà vu. I felt squeezed, pushed, and pulled from and on all sides. It was one great experience of “sinulog” in the literal sense of being carried by the waves of teeming humanity from all walks of life. Together with novices who were supposed to take me there, I was literally brought there by a swell of human emotions of excitement and determination, with thousands and thousands vying for the same exact precious spot – a much coveted seat in a stadium that could seat only 12,000 people, with perhaps hundreds of thousands, milling around, hovering around, or otherwise inching their way closer and closer to where the floats, the props, and the very colorfully dressed contingents were supposed to pass.

I managed to squeeze myself somehow. The Johnny-Come-Lately of sinulog revelers and believers, found a standing room only spot up in the highest pinnacle of the stadium bleachers. I missed a good number of contingents, but what I saw made my hair stand on end, and brought tears to my eyes. There were those that simply stood out. The contingent from Carmen was a pleasure to behold. I thought it was well planned, well choreographed, and well-executed. But when the Lumad Basakanon came, they simply brought the house down. They did not steal the show. They must have had it right from the beginning. For people waited with hushed expectations. But I thought that the group from Ilongos, Leyte, despite being first-time contestants, also made the crowd roar, rave and rump about for utter appreciation. The group’s Broadway style antics and props, all artfully and skillfully executed, would have been enough reason for me to be there.

The highlight of the celebrations at the stadium ended with a flair – with not just a touch of Broadway and Las Vegas. Replete with gowns, top hats and long tails in white and blue of various shades, contrasting with red and gold and a flair of feathers galore, the grandstand burst out into a vicarious and real giant partying place. To the tune of Broadway hits like “there’s nothing like show business,” the retinue swayed and sashayed artfully and gracefully, segueing at some point, almost unnoticeably, to the traditional but stylized Sinulog music that showed everyone in the whole world, that all this was happening, the fever and all, in honor of the Holy Child Jesus, represented by that tiny miraculous statue that the whole world now loves.
And I mean this. As a converted reveler, I know that what all this fanfare and revelry that only Cebuanos could put up, has become a world-class festival and something worth being carried away by huge waves of devotion for.

Nahuman na ang sinulog, kapuy kaayo ku. Way na koy umoy pang mo mokuyug sa tanang mga concerts ug street shows sa ciudad. Mibuswak ang Cebu sa katawhan, bisan diin … sa Ayala, sa Fuente, sa Jones … Cebu and the rest of the world came out in full force. Tanang dalan, naay daghang tawo. Nigamay ang Cebu tungod sa Sinulog. It was bursting at the seams for love of Jesus, the Holy Child … and in return, El Senor Santo Nino … hinigugmang Sugbu!

Pit Senyor!

Friday, January 18, 2008


Conjectures of a Pensive Bystander on the Sinulog Celebrations

I write from Cebu, now caught in the frenzy of Sinulog fever! Preparations are under way for the greatest event of the year at the center of the nation-wide celebrations and fanfare associated with the Feast of the Santo Nino, the Holy Child Jesus.

Last New Year’s eve, there may have been fewer firecrackers (the explosions and colors bursting up in the skies lasted a mere 15 minutes, at the most, in most places), and thus, fewer wounded revelers, fewer fireworks, and fewer noise and mirth-making, but you can’t take it away from the Filipino to celebrate all the same. With or without explosions and fireworks galore, the Filipino can – and does – celebrate with more than just panache and passionate dedication.

Just look at the heavy turn-out of so-called “devotees” to the Senor Nazareno, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, January 9 last! Organizers and kibitzers alike were right in predicting a more than normal outpouring of people. A whopping 3 million people were expected! They were wrong by only a few hundred thousands. A total of 2.6 million came to join the festivities, leaving behind a total of 14 truckloads of trash the morning after. Funny, but the devotees go by the appellation as people with “panata” – a Tagalog word that means a vow, a promise, a pledge to the Black Nazarene, to passionately and personally be there during the most-awaited procession en masse, en grande, en tout cas, une merveille touristique! Vraiment! Sans doute! Not exactly sans souci, and neither an activity done with a lot of sang froid! No … there is a lot of passion put into it, a lot of emotions ran thick in the hearts and veins of all those whose dream in life is to go there and touch that blessed rope that gave them instant connection to the Nazarene. No … this time, I don’t agree with Miguel de Unamuno, who once wrote, that “if a man says he loves God, yet has no red blood of passion flowing through his veins, he only loves the God-idea, not God himself.”

Allow me to explain tout suite … the 2.6 million who came armed with panata (does it make you wonder that it sounds almost like fanatic?) didn’t do that with an air of sang froid. They weren’t there only for a walk in the park. They weren’t there only to sip cool drinks and watch the world go by placidly. No … they were there with red blood flowing through their veins. They were there filled with a lot of love and passion. They were there on the strength of a personal promise to the Lord Nazarene, never mind if that promise holds good only for the 9th of January, never mind if all the rest of the year, that panata never crosses their minds as they go through their work-a-day life in a world filled with so much “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number.”

The beauty and the tragedy of the Filipino soul … the beauty of a people so blessed, so loved by a God of promises, and a God of fulfillment … the beauty of a people so easily taken in to anything remotely related to a God who came in flesh, a God incarnate in Jesus Christ, present, here, now, there, all ways, all days and for always.

But the feast of the Black Nazarene, and together with it, the noisy and raucous feast of the Santo Nino, also exposes the soft underbelly of the seeming tragedy of the Filipino soul, so caught up in the shallow, superficial world of fiestas that are celebrated with absolute panache and revelrous abandon … sans souci … sans doute … sans penser a tous lesquels s’agiront cette devotion, cet amour, et tous ces emotions!

What does all this revelry mean for us as a people?

Two and a half years before national elections, the fiesta atmosphere has begun. The Olympics that happens every 3 or 6 years in the Philippines, otherwise known as local or national elections, have come to full swing. The campaign season has begun. The most talked about word in the Philippines as of this time is the word that has become, at least for me, addiritura, una parolaccia, is “re-election.” Pundits and lawyers are having the time of their lives debating on what it means, and whether or not that most famous convict who never served time, could really run again for office.

I live in a country of fiestas, sinulogs, ati-atihan, Nazarenos, imahens, and countless Milagros! I live in a country described by the most hated writer 20 years ago, James Fallows, as a “damaged culture.” I live in a beautiful country, populated by beautiful people, but deeply immersed in a culture of corruption, a culture of politics that has become, a big structural evil.

I live in a country different from the country I was born in. When I was born, I would like to think, that there was more civility, more honesty, more dedication to good, old, hard work, and more national self-respect and international respectability. Alas, all that seems to have gone down the drain much too fast.

I am preaching a series of retreats while here, caught up in the sinulog fever in Cebu. I am awed by the genuine devotion of so many, who take part in the prayers and the liturgical celebrations that abound in the center of it all. I marvel at what Cebu becomes during Sinulog time, a haven for foreigners, gawkers, kibitzers, devotees, panata armed hordes and fanatics alike, who are out to make the day a real religious one – for whatever it is worth.

I preach to a group of unheralded heroes who do not make it to Sun Star Cebu, nor make it to the headlines. I preach to a group who has taken it their lifetime mission to take care of whom society ignores, and looks down on – the mentally sick, the psychically infirm. My duty is to explain to them their General Chapter documents, their tradition, their culture. They gave me half a dozen books to study (in Italian and Spanish and English). I fell in love with their Founder long ago, in an earlier retreat preached to the same group in Manila. I fell in love with one of their beautiful, soul-stirring document entitled “pastoral en el mundo de sufrimiento psiquico.”

And what I fell in love with, I share today. We live in a world that PCP II calls a world of “lights and shadows.” We are a land and people filled with beauty and tragedy. We live in a world of pain, of suffering, of problems many of them self-inflicted courtesy of a “damaged culture” and a political system gone wild, gone sinful, and raving mad – a structural evil, no less.
But as the Sisters’ document teaches, “somos llamados a celebrar en tierra de sombras.” We are called, as Christian believers, to a life of celebration in a world filled with all sorts of shadows. A pesar de todas las tinieblas … a pesar de todas las sombras, nosotros creyentes Cristianos, podemos celebrar sin prenos, sin preoccupaciones, porque el Senor, El ama a nosotros sin frontieras.

Having taught social theology for so long, this document of these unheralded heroes who work quietly a pesar de todo, convicts me and reminds me of what I have talked of so often, so passionately, and yet only half-convincingly: “We live in the worst of times. We live in the best of times.” (PCP II) But only if we are willing to make these times into kairos … God’s time, God’s own sweet, good time. In His time, He makes all things beautiful, in His time … In the meantime, it is good to remember that “somos llamados a celebrar en esta tierra de sombras” …. We are called to celebrate in a world filled with shadows.

Pit Senyor! Hala Bira!

Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Maria Josefa Recio Therapeutic Center
Talamban, Cebu City, Philippines
January 18, 2008