sometime in april 1521 upon his arrival in cebu, ferdinand magellan ordered his boys to plant a cross that would symbolize christianity. a subtle move under the guise of religion to conquer cebu and its people by faith. a subtle move so profound that 491 years later, that faith is still as solid as a rock.
i must have passed by magellan’s cross about 9,487 times in my lifetime. most of the time a group of tourists crowd around the wooden cross with their cameras and their heads angled upwards for a better view of the paintings on the ceiling — a graphic interpretation of how christianity started in the heart of cebu and what magellan must have looked like without his famous hat on.
a few steps away from magellan’s cross is the basilica minore del santo niño, a 16th-century coral stone church founded by an augustinian priest in 1565.
i think it’s safe to say that all cebuanos have fond memories of this church — the friday novenas to sto. niño; the sunday masses; the queues to get to where the statue of sto. niño is so they could knock on the glass and get him to listen to their prayers. a billion prayers shooting up into the sky. all kinds of prayers. prayers answered and unanswered. prayers still on the child jesus’ file of “list of things to do.”
if you’re a cebuano born and raised here as a child, i wouldn’t be surprised if you, too, have a couple of faded pictures taken at sto. niño by photographers who roamed around the church with their cameras on their necks looking very much like progenitors of the modern-day paparazzi. because that was how it was back then. before digital cameras, we had that. printed pictures as souvenirs of third or fourth or fifth birthdays holding a prized red balloon sitting beside the “no picking of flowers” sign.
so, yeah, it’s typical for cebuanos to visit sto. niño church during special events. especially on their birthdays. just because it’s a cebuano thing.
like i did on my birthday last week. a quiet celebration punctuated with prayers and 10 red candles whose flames, like the candle vendors, danced gracefully before my eyes.
i’ve never been a big fan of my own birthdays. after the mass, it was supposed to be just ram and me and a plate of california maki between us and our chopsticks. but then the freaks showed up and once again, i realized how blessed i am to have such wonderful and true friends whose friendship i will always treasure forever and ever.
kind of like a magellan’s cross in my heart.