Jan 14, 2014

Filipino Catholics celebrate Santo Nino feast with prayer and dance



Story and photos by Peggy Weber

SPRINGFIELD – About 100 members of the Filipino Catholic community gathered at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish here, Jan. 11, to celebrate the feast of Santo Nino.

The gathering commemorated when the statue of the Holy Child of Cebu (Santo Nino) was brought to the Philippines in 1521 by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

Similar to the Infant of Prague, this image of the Child Jesus was given a papal blessing in 1965 and is celebrated with a fiesta and dancing in the streets in the Philippines each January.

The Santo Nino Prayer Group of Western Massachusetts organized the day, which has been held locally since 1993. Marietta Flaherty and Geraldine LaRochelle started the event with just a handful of people 21 years ago.

“It started the year my mother died,” recalled Flaherty. “Geraldine and I started it with just a little infant Jesus and maybe there were nine of us. It grows bigger and bigger,” she said.

LaRochelle said she was happy to bring the tradition from the Philippines to western Massachusetts. “We talked about how we missed the fiesta and Santo Nino and she (Marietta) asked me to help organize it,” she said.

“It brings us back home. We are here, far from some of our family, so it is nice to see all the Filipinos here. It feels like home,” she said.

LaRochelle added that she found another home when she came to the United States. She said she came from a very strong Catholic family. She said her grandmother told her she had to go to church three times a week and pray the Santo Nino Novena each Friday.

“The first thing I did when I arrived in America was to ask my husband to find me a Catholic Church,” she said.

She and Flaherty and many other women meet every Friday in someone’s home to pray the Santo Nino Novena. Many of them also met nine days before the fiesta event at Mt. Carmel to pray a special novena.

Olivia Melaya Strohman, president of the Bayanihan Association of America (Filipino-Americans), helped organize the rosary procession and liturgy.

The colorful rosary procession included more than 50 people carrying roses and statues of Santo Nino. The statues were presented at the altar with a traditional Sinulog Dance.

Stigmatine Father Robert White blessed the statues during the morning Mass. He said, in his homily, that the celebration of the Child Jesus is a wonderful reminder that “he came to us as a helpless child. Our task is to look at how we bring light into the world and scatter the darkness.”

Strohman said that, like many women there, her faith is so important. “I would never survive America if I did not join the Santo Nino Prayer group. It’s continuing the traditions. It’s continuing what we started in the Philippines,” she said.

“My faith is my whole life. My son, Oliver, asked me, when he was about four years old, what are the three most important things in my life. I told him first it is God. Second, it is you and my family and, third, it is the people I deal with,” she said.

In addition to praying and honoring Santo Nino, the group organized and continues to provide relief for those who suffered losses during the November 2013 typhoon in the Philippines.

The fiesta celebration at Mt. Carmel also included the traditional roast pig and Dayang-Dayang dancing.

For more information about the prayer group or Filipino American activities, call Olivia Strohman at 413-348-1251.