Two Cebuanos are in my consciousness these days. One brings forth inspiration; the other, indignation.
Let’s talk first about the good one.
When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that he is not particularly fond of the Sto. Niño. “Why pray to the child Jesus when you can pray to the adult one?” he asked rhetorically. My mother, a daily communicant, thinks otherwise. Not only does she have images of the child Jesus prominently displayed on our home altar, she actually had me dress up like a Sto. Niño during a novena mass at Church: I held a sceptre on my left hand and a globe on my right. I barely remember other details of that event, but I do recall my mom telling me that she prays that I may become a good boy like the child Jesus. From then on, Sto. Niño and I became faithful friends.
That friendship was fortified when I attended college at San Beda where the community has a special devotion to the Sto. Niño of Prague. Dedicated to him, our annual college fair and frolics is highlighted by a procession in the Malacañang vicinity, and a grand mass at the football field. Even after I graduated and began working, I’d go back to Mendiola every third Sunday of January to join the Pista ng Sto. Niño sa San Beda. Also, I’d go to the feast of the Sto. Niño in Tondo where the family of my good friend Weng de Jesus lives. The Tondo fiesta is the liveliest I have been to, with processions, parlor games, and drinking sprees happening in every nook and corner of the district. I have also been fortunate to visit the Sto. Niño in Cebu and in Iloilo where the country’s grandest festivals are held.
It is always a joy being in the company of my beloved friend who constantly makes me feel loved and at peace. During times of great trouble, I visit him and feel comforted. I am assured by his gentle smile that everything is going to be okay; after all, he’s got the whole world in his hands.
Last week, as the pilgrim image of Sto. Niño de Cebu visited various towns of Ilocos Norte, I was amazed by the very strong devotion Ilocanos have for the child Jesus. The queues to the image were constantly long as people from all walks of life came to pay homage. At the St. William’s Cathedral, I was particularly struck by a couple who stood in line behind me: they are probably in their seventies. The old woman man walked very slowly while her husband was aided with a cane. They politely asked if I could take their picture. I took the camera and did as asked, the Sto. Niño smiling in the background. Then I asked them if I could also take their picture with my own camera, for I wanted to capture that touching moment, and probably share the story of their piety with others. They graciously agreed.
Both the old and young venerate the Sto. Niño. But why pray to the child when you can go directly to the adult Jesus? Our special affinity to the Sto. Niño is probably because we see the best qualities of humanity in childhood: that of innocence and purity, of carefree fun and adventure, of meekness and humility, and, ultimately, of pure and unadulterated love. Never mind that the cruel and oppressive Spaniards brought the historic image here and forced their religion to us. It is interesting to note that the image of a spiritual child runs across Oriental religions, specifically in Hinduism’s Krishna.
Now, let us talk about the other Cebuano, the despicable one.
Fr. Romeo Obach of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in Mandaue City in Cebu publicly scolded and humiliated a 17-year-old single mother during her child’s baptism.
A video clip, which is going the rounds in the Internet, shows an old priest reprimanding the young girl in Cebuano, excerpts of which follow:
“Allowing yourself to sleep with a man who is not your husband, is that what the church has taught you? This child did not sin, but the man and the woman who slept together unwed are the ones who are living in sin. The child will bear the mistake.
Were you married, inday? (Girl shakes head) Oh, see, is she a good Christian? Is this something you can be proud of, ‘day? That you have a child, but have no husband? This is shameful, day. You should have covered yourself, because you are in church. Shameful! You want this baptism even without a husband, you slept with a man who was not your husband. Do you hear me, Day? Aren’t you ashamed?
“And you (addresses crowd), are you going to follow what she did? Will you spread your legs for a man you barely know? That’s why this is shameful. This child will live in grace because he is baptized. You, on the other hand, were baptized but you did not fulfil the promise of baptism. You are crooked.”
There are many more painful words the priest directed at Kaye (not her real name) that was not captured on video. Obach even reportedly called the young girl “abnormal.” Kaye, who broke down in tears, was traumatized at the experience. They went to Church to receive the grace of God but experience humiliation from a rude priest instead.
Obach, now the object of public wrath after the video became viral, may face charges for violation of Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. The hypocrisy is not lost on people: this priest publicly humiliated an unwed mother at a time when the Catholic Church is rocked by scandals faced by the clergy, many of whom abused altar boys and young girls.
What Obach did was certainly in contrast to the attitude of Pope Francis who openly baptized at the Sistine Chapel, without judgment and ridicule but only with the love and compassion of a real servant of God should offer, the child of unwed parents. Obach lived centuries too late. He belongs to the dark era of witch hunts and persecutions all done in the name of faith.
When I go to church and stand before Sto. Niño, I feel warmly embraced by God in the image of a dear friend. Alas, poor Kaye went to that Cebu church and was verbally assaulted by a microphone-wielding wolf in white cloth.
Viva pit Senyor Sto. Niño! Shame on you, Rev. Fr. Romeo Obach.