BY KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — In an attempt to preserve their Filipino Catholic culture in America, Emily Lacson and Ernesto Hernando, parishioners at St. Joseph Church and St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, initiated the Fiesta de Santo Niño, a Catholic celebration honoring the child Jesus. What started as a handful of Filipino families 11 years ago attracted almost 700 people to the Midlands on Jan. 13.
Families from not only the Carolinas, but from California, Georgia, Florida and Virginia, filled the gym at St. John Neumann School with worship, song and fabulous ethnic cuisine during this fiesta that has roots dating back to 1521 in the Philippines. At that time Ferdinand Magellan, the famous explorer, had established Cebu, Philippines, as the center of Christianity, where the natives readily embraced Catholicism. As a sign of the conversion of the queen of Cebu, Magellan presented her with a statue of the Christ child, a gift from the queen of Spain.
The Columbia celebration began with the traditional dance/procession called Karakol. Karakol is an expressive form of thanksgiving where a statue representing a patron saint, in this case the child Jesus, is processed. Others follow carrying their own personal statue or picture while dancing and singing. The child is honored because of his significant role in the lives of the Filipinos starting from their homeland’s conversion to Christianity in the 1500s to present day miracles attributed to the Christ child.
After the procession, the participants placed their statues on the stage for the blessing that followed Mass celebrated by Oratorian Father Joseph Pierce. The lively and joyous Filipino hymns sung throughout the liturgy, lead up to the Gospel reading about the wedding in Cana, a story that blended well with the day’s festivities.
“Mary did not want the family to be embarrassed by running out of wine so she called upon Jesus to help and he did by turning water into wine,” said Father Pierce, who added, “God wants us to rejoice, to have fiestas and to delight in one another as he delights in everyone of us.”
Later Father Pierce commented on how events such as the Fiesta Santo Niño, can bring the best of a culture to the melting pot of America. “We can learn much from these people of faith,” he said.
Rosita Reynolds, visiting from Alabama, would not have missed this opportunity to give thanks to the Christ child. She shared a story about her son’s miraculous recovery from an infection when he was 8. Reynolds attributes his cure to the child Jesus whom they prayed to intercede for them.
“One day after Mass, my son begged me for a statue of the child. We were poor and could not afford one but I was afraid to deny him this request so we used money I was saving for medicine,” said Reynolds, who let her son pick out his own statue even though it had a hole near its eye.
After they prayed for the child’s intercession, the infection, which caused enormous swelling on the boy’s face, disappeared leaving only a small hole near his eye identical to that of the statue he had chosen, according to Reynolds.
The Filipinos have chosen the second Saturday of January to observe the Fiesta Santo Niño. It is celebrated the same day all over the world. In the Philippines, the procession is a flotilla with many boats and thousands of people watching from the shores. The participants of Santo Niño in Columbia mark the fiesta as a spiritual beginning because they continue to reflect and pray to Jesus as a child throughout the year. A statue is passed from household to household alternating every seventh-day until next year when they come together again as a community in awe of a loving God that chose to become so small in order to save the world.