CHARLESTON — Two important shrines were dedicated recently at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston and Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island. Bishop Robert J. Baker was the celebrant for the two Masses dedicating the shrines.
At St. Thomas, Filipino parishioners met for the dedication and inaugural blessing of the Santo Niño shrine, which is located outdoors and accessible at all times.
The history of Santo Niño’s importance in the Philippines dates back to the 1500s, when Ferdinand Magellan discovered the islands and gave a statue of the infant Jesus to the country’s queen. The statue still exists today, and replicas of it can be seen in Filipino churches, homes, and businesses.
The Santa Niño image has deep meaning for Arturo de la Cruz, a Filipino national and president of the Cofradia del Santo Niño’s Charleston chapter. “Christianity was a gift given to my country by Santo Niño,” he said.
De la Cruz invited Father Ambrosio Galindez to St. Thomas in 2003 for a Santo Niño celebration. The Filipino priest donated the shrine’s statue, which is made of wood from the narra tree, the national tree of the Philippines.
“When he was here he said that he felt led to donate the Santo Niño statue that was in the national office [of the Cofradia del Santo Niño] in the Philippines,” de la Cruz said. “The only thing that he asked [was] that we build a shrine to place it in.”
So de la Cruz began a fund-raising project. The estimated construction cost for the shrine was $25,000, an amount he found a bit overwhelming.
“I didn’t know how we were going to do it,” he said, “but by November of 2004, eight months after we started raising money, we had $30,000 in our account.”
“We are so blessed to have the Santo Niño,” said de la Cruz. “It is a bridge between the Philippine community and the rest of the Diocese of Charleston. We were also so honored to have the bishop here with us.”
In his homily at the dedication, Bishop Baker said that the child Jesus symbolizes the humanity of Christ.
“May the Santo Niño inspire all those who pass by St. Thomas Parish to love God and their neighbor as God has first loved us,” the bishop said.
The dedication of the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was of equal significance for parishioners of Holy Spirit Church. The parish has a large Hispanic population and has a weekly novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas.
“This parish has had this novena since long before I arrived here 15 years ago,” said Father James Parker, pastor of Holy Spirit. “We had a banner honoring Our Lady in the old church, and after we opened this new parish last year we had plans for a new shrine as well.”
The parish commissioned Christian Thee to paint an 18-foot image of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the church vestibule. Thee, who lives in Columbia, is a nationally known former Broadway set designer. The painting was a memorial gift from a Holy Spirit parishioner.
In his homily, Bishop Baker told Holy Spirit’s parishioners, “God bless you for your hospitality and love for our dear Hispanic brothers and sisters on Johns Island and your great outreach efforts to them.”