In the summer of 1980, when we first ran the immersion program for Ateneo de Manila High School students, Dr. Onofre Pagsanghan gave one of the talks for the parents of the young men, who were then aged 16 or 17, the incoming seniors.
In his talk, Mr. Pagsi, as he is fondly called, used the Gospel passage for this Sunday—The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Luke—as his springboard for reflection.
His core message to the parents: At a certain point we have to let go of our children to allow them to live their life and do what God wants them to do.
I offer this for our reflection today, the Feast of the Santo Niño. As an educator and a formator, I have always advocated that the core purposes and goals of education are to help the youth discover their mission, and to guide or mentor them on how to live out this mission with magnanimity.
We as a people and as a church celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño in a special, unique way. I believe we are the only country that celebrates this feast on a Sunday, the third Sunday of January.
Historically, we commemorate the coming of the Christian faith to our country with the image of the Santo Niño de Cebu.
An authenticated entry in the Journal of Pigafetta, clerk in the Magellan expedition, explained the origin of Santo Niño: “On the day Queen Juana was baptized by Father Pedro Valderama, chaplain of that expedition, Pigaffeta himself presented her with the Image.”
The same image now lies in the Basilica del Santo Niño and has become a favorite destination for millions of pilgrims each year.
Culturally, we are a people whose love for family is a core value. In two recent surveys, this primacy of love for family and care for its young were revalidated: Parents worked hard, sacrificed and, in the midst of challenges that come with poverty, held on to the dream of educating their children as a means to overcome poverty. The children, in turn, aspired for better jobs to be able to earn and improve the life of their family.
Anecdotally, we see the parents’ concern to feed their children, educate them and give them a fighting chance for a better life as one of the driving forces of the overseas Filipino worker phenomenon.
The Feast of the Santo Niño says much about our history as a church and as a people. It is an important part of our story and soul as a nation.
Today’s feast reminds us that in the coming year—in the midst of many important milestones for the country like the 120th anniversary of the martyrdom of José Rizal, the 30th anniversary of Edsa, and the election of a new President—we must reconnect with the core values of the primacy of family, and concern, care and love for our youth.
Paraphrasing an African proverb, it takes a community to educate and form its youth. May today’s feast remind us to look deep into ourselves—individually, as a family, a community, a nation—and rediscover our love for family and our care and concern for our youth.
As one media campaign tagline for this year’s elections puts it, “Ipanalo ang pamilyang Pilipino. (Let the Filipino family win).” This is a good reminder of what lies ahead for our people, our nation, and our church this year. We need to win this year for the Filipino family.
We need to build a better future for our youth. As Dr. José Rizal put it, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” This is equivalent to what Martin Heidegger said that only those who remember are able to project themselves into the future.
May this coming year be truly a celebration of our people and nation’s soul—that our youth may not only have an opportunity to overcome poverty, but live meaningful lives inspired not just by a sense purpose, but a sense of mission that is God-given to make our country and our world better.