In 1521, explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in the southern Philippines, the first European to set foot on the archipelago. He gifted an image of “Christ as Child-King” to local chieftain Rajah Humabon, who welcomed Magellan and his weary crew. It would be the last land for Magellan to discover for Spain, he died a month later after stumbling into an inter-island conflict, but his short time in the Philippines brought the first baptisms, masses and converts to Christianity.
That history is what brought Fr. General Arturo Sosa to Cebu on the 4th day of his Philippine visitation. Met by representatives of Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, the eminent Jesuit school in the southern Philippines, Fr. General was escorted to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, said to house the same image that Magellan gifted to Humabon. Fr. Sosa was greeted by Augustinian prior Fr. Pacifico C. Nohara, Jr who led Fr. General and his party in quiet prayer at the chapel of Santo Niño.
More than a social call, Fr. Sosa came to the Basilica, built and rebuilt by the Augustinians continuously over the past three centuries, to learn about the nationwide celebration to take place in 2021 to mark 500 years of Christianity on the Islands, and to honor the Augustinian part of history of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines. It was an Augustinian Saint, Pedro de Agurto, the first bishop of Cebu, who invited the Jesuits to the island in 1595.
Respects paid to the Augustinians and St. Pedro de Agurto, Fr. Sosa travelled to the Shrine of the Sacred Heart to meet with a group of Chinese-Filipino Catholics who are part of the parish established in 1952 by Jesuits who fled China during the Communist revolution. Focusing on the centrality of the Sacred Heart as a potent symbol of the faith, Fr. Sosa commended their commitment to Ignatian spirituality and the mission, with the celebration culminating in the blessing of a time capsule to be buried on the site of the newly renovated House of Retreats of St. Peter Faber.
With evening falling, Fr. Sosa joined the Sacred Heart School community for a mass presided over by senior Jesuit, Fr. Ernesto Javier, before joining the assembled Jesuits and lay colleagues for a Filipino-style celebration. Amidst traditional food, boisterous laughter and singing by students, Fr. General found himself in the middle of the sinulog – a ritual dance that simulates moving through a strong current in honor of the Santo Niño. There may be no better allegory for the history of Christianity and the Jesuits in the Philippines than the sinulog: two steps forward, one step back. Everybody moving, laughing, smiling, trying to be part of the dance. Fr. General participated by holding high the Santo Niño as the dance undulated through the crowd.