In 1565, as part of the Legazpi expedition, Augustinian friar, cartographer, adventurer and explorer Andrés de Urdaneta arrived for the second time in the Philippines, where he was to become an important figure in helping to establish not just the Catholic faith among its people, but also develop the devotion to the Santo Niño, still widespread today. This year, on the fourth day of the annual Sinulog novena commemorating the arrival of the Santo Niño in Cebu - then known as the Island of the Queen of the South - the Prior General and his Assistant for the Asia and Pacific Region, Fr Tony Banks, concelebrated the Eucharist with the provincial government of the Augustinians in front of a packed basilica.
According to the security office of the Basilica of the Santo Niño of Cebu, 5,000 people indoors - plus those following the giant screens installed in the concourse as well as the tens of thousands connected in communion through Facebook (the account has over 830,000 followers) - accompanied the Order in one of the 14 daily Masses offered during the thanksgiving celebrations.
"The work only comes through the grace of God"
"Continue to be there for the community; make fraternity effective through charity. That is when we recognise the importance of being united. We need this version of fraternity - community and communion together. We really need it," exhorted the Prior General.
For his part, in his homily, Fr Banks acknowledged the graces of the Santo Niño received by the Augustinians in this central part of the Visayas Archipelago:
"Father General and the entire Curia can only express our gratitude and admiration, our love … We all know that the work only comes through the grace of God, the first and only Santo Niño who transforms us all”.
Also showing their support for the Province on its 40th anniversary, and joining the General and Assistant General, were the newly appointed Prior Provincial of the Province of the Santo Niño of Cebu, Fr Andrew Batayola, his predecessor Fr Andrés Rivera, Fr Dante Bendoy (Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus), Fr Jan Pieter Fatem (Vicar Superior of Indonesia), and Fr Pacifico Nohara Jr (vice councillor of the delegation of Korea).
And representing the other Augustinian superiors from across the region was the newly elected president of the Superiors of the Order of St Augustine in Asia and the Pacific (OSAAP), Fr Wilson Viswanath Injarapu.
The epicentre of the Catholic way in the Tropics
The 40th anniversary itself fell on 15 January 15, marking another milestone in the work of the friars of the Order of St Augustine, and associated sisters and lay people, have been energetically sharing the vitality of the Gospel and holding out a helping hand to those in this archipelago of 4.8 million people who want or need to hear its message. They are easily found on any sidewalk, and at any street corner; and behind the anonymous face there is an individual who is determined to keep walking in the face of day-to-day difficulties, who has seen hope in the everyday, in the daily routine, in Mass, in school, in family, and in community.