The Feast of the Sto. Niṅo and spiritual childhood

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Every Third Sunday of January marks the biggest feast in Cebu and in other parts of the country, the Feast of the Sto. Niṅo, the commemoration of the giving of the gift of the image of the Holy Child Jesus by explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his chief consort on account of their baptism in 1521.  It is a feast close to Christmas and somehow Christmas in Cebu is extended to four more weeks. The official weeklong celebration starts with a dawn procession of the replica image of the Holy Child on the first day and ends with the religious festival of dance rituals called the Sinulog on the seventh day or on the Third Sunday of January.

Among the many spiritual lessons, the feast brings, foremost is the spiritual exercise of always being a child in relating to God or the practice of spiritual childhood.  This practice of spiritual childhood is mainly attributed to St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  She would call it the “little way” and the image of the child or childhood does find a place in her religious experience in two fundamental ways: (1) she cultivated a personal relationship to the child Jesus; and (2) she employed the image of childhood or littleness as one construct in communicating her own spiritual journey.  St. Therese’s spiritual childhood provides us an alternative view of relating to God: not a formal, stiff, perfectionist, scrupulous, fearful model, but a relaxed, loving, open and meaningful one.

The scriptural basis of spiritual childhood is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” (Matthew 18:1-5)

Why does Christ recommend a childlike attitude towards God?  Because children have many virtues that we can learn from.  Children are simple, humble, trusting, dependent on their parents, don’t harbor any grudges and would easily forgive, can easily recover from mistakes and sorrows in life, curious, sincere, playful and cheerful.  Childlike simplicity and sincerity in the spiritual life for example means we don’t hide any secrets that could harm our spiritual life and we don’t hide sins to the priest in confession.  Childlike humility means we always are dependent on God and His grace and we simply ask for God’s help when we feel we need it.  Trusting means we don’t lose faith in God especially when undergoing difficulties and trials because we know that God is a good Father who is always after of the good of His children.

Kids would easily get into a fight when playing, but would also easily forgive each other and get back playing.  It is something that adult people have a hard time doing, forgiving others right away because of a lack of childlike attitude in the spiritual life.  And the favorite virtue I love from kids is their cheerfulness because they don’t have much moral complications, they are happy with the simple things in life and if they have problems, they are confident that Mom and Dad would take care of it.

In another Gospel passage, this time from St. Mark, Christ gives the criteria to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs, “And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was angry, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them” (Mark 10:13-16).  The Kingdom of Heaven therefore is reserved for those who acknowledge they are weak and vulnerable, and to those who do not rely on their own strength.

Another saint that is an advocate of spiritual childhood is St. Josemaria Escriva.  He has a whole chapter dedicated to this topic in his famous book, “The Way.”  One of my favorite passages in the book is point 864, “Being children you will have no cares: children quickly forget what troubles them and return to their games.  With abandonment, therefore, you will not have to worry, since you will rest in the Father.”


Kids are friendly and amiable.  Everyone can easily talk to them.  That’s why God became a child in the Sto. Niṅo so that we could easily approach Him.  Let us pray to the Sto. Niṅo so that we would always have a childlike attitude towards God and that we may always behave as children of God because that’s who we really are.  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  (1 John 3:1)