This year's Australia Day reminded us that there are many threads that tie us together as a nation. The Catholic faith is one of these threads, passed down through the generations and kept alive in the hearts of many regardless of ethnicity, age or status. It's a thread that has, over the years, been strengthened and enriched by various migrant communities who have brought to Australia their personal devotions and prayer practices.
As one of Australia’s largest migrant groups, Filipinos are well-known for their deeply devotional brand of Catholicism and that was certainly on display in January, with Sinulog celebrations held in parishes across the Diocese of Sale and the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Sinulog, or Fiesta Señor, is an annual festival that celebrates the people's devotion to the Santo Niño, or the Child Jesus. It also marks the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. In 1521, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed on the shores of Cebu, Philippines, where he presented an image of the Child Jesus to the local Rajah Humabon and his wife, who eventually converted to Christianity.
It has been 500 years since the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines and its influence continues to reverberate throughout the country and beyond. At a 2019 Mass in Rome, Pope Francis spoke to the Filipinos gathered and said that those who had left their land in search of a better future 'have a special mission.'
'Your faith is "leaven" in the parish communities to which you belong,' he said. 'I encourage you to increase opportunities for meeting to share your cultural and spiritual wealth, while at the same time allowing yourselves to be enriched by the experiences of others.'
In the Philippines, the Sinulog festival in Cebu ordinarily attracts millions of pilgrims for nine days of worship, fiestas and other religious and cultural activities. Due to COVID restrictions, a limited number gathered in the church and half a million devotees tuned in online for the dawn Mass at the Basilica del Santo Nino, Cebu, where the original image of the Santo Niño is kept.
Fr Gerald Binegas RCJ, one of the pastors at Holy Family Parish Maidstone, described the Feast of Santo Niño as a reminder that the Child Jesus dwells in our hearts and continues to invite us to say "yes" to Him.
'The Santo Niño reminds us of being childlike. As Jesus tells us, you cannot enter the kingdom of God if you do not embrace the image of a child—of being simple, hopeful, and trusting in God.
The word "sinulog" is from the local Visayan dialect and describes the wave-like movement of dance-worship that locals perform in thanksgiving to God for the abundant blessings they have received. Fr Binegas said that the Sinulog dancers 'dance with intention and prayer'.
'They believe that the Child Jesus will grant their prayers. This is also true for us. We may not be dancing today but this is our prayer: that Jesus will continue to grant our heart's desire and continue to shower us with blessings and graces.
'Mother Mary, Our Lady of Fatima, joins her Son on this feast day. Mary is an example of saying yes to the Lord. Let us repent and change our old ways and embrace the love and goodness and mercy of God.'