Author: Lana Kaczmarek

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ORLANDO | As a high school seminarian living in the Philippines, Father Glenn Lopez credited Santo Niño, the image of the child Jesus dressed as a king, with helping him remain steadfast on the path toward his vocation.

“After high school, my mother and I attended Mass at the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu, where Santo Niño originated,” said Father Lopez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Oviedo. “She dedicated me to Santo Niño, praying for me to become a priest. After the Mass, my mother had a Cebu prayer dancer pray for me by name in the native language. This could very well have been the moment of grace for me in my vocation.”

On Jan. 29, Father Lopez joined other Filipino priests along with roughly 800 laity for the 17th Diocesan Annual Eucharistic Celebration for the feast day of Santo Niño. Bishop John Noonan of Orlando celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, with Father Peter Puntal, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood, as the homilist.

“The beatitudes first show us the childlike faith of Santo Niño – be humble of heart and poor in spirit,” Father Puntal said. “Children know how to have fun – they play, they laugh…it is easy for them to forgive. We were created for light. We must learn to have fun, to have joy when Jesus said, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow.’”

In his homily, Father Puntal provided several ways of how to cultivate joy in our lives. First, he advised to start the day off right by thanking the Lord for the gift of life and asking Him to guide us away from negativity. Second, he encouraged spending time with family and friends. Third, he recommended growing our sense of humor. And lastly, he said we gain joy by helping others.

The Mass was followed by Sinulog dancing and a re-enactment of the Spaniards led by Ferdinand Magellan who presented Santo Niño to Queen Juana of the Philippines in 1521. This event marks the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines. It has been said, while holding the image of Santo Niño, the newly baptized and converted Queen Juana danced with joy which led other native Filipinos to follow. This moment is regarded as the first Sinulog, an annual cultural and Catholic festival traditionally held in the Philippines on the third Sunday of every January. It includes dancing to honor Santo Niño.

The sculptural image of Santo Niño looks similar to the Infant Jesus of Prague – both originating from Spain. The original wooden statue of Santo Niño is still intact today, more than 500 years since its gifting to Queen Juana. Pope Francis mentioned the Holy Child as the protector of the Philippines during his visit to Manila in 2015.

“The reverencing of Santo Niño is the oldest of all devotions that we have in the Philippines,” said Father Kenny Aquino, pastor of Divine Mercy Catholic Community in Merritt Island, and liaison to the Filipino Ministry of the Diocese of Orlando. “There is an identity of love for Santo Niño that Filipinos have passed on from one generation to the next. You will see the image of Santo Niño in almost every Filipino home. Santo Niño reminds us that through Jesus we will never be abandoned in our suffering.”

While the feast of Santo Niño is a celebration of Filipino heritage, Father Aquino said it is the reassurance that the Holy Child of Jesus will be a companion to migrants as they journey from home. “Santo Niño is a source of solace and hope. It is a blessing to be with Santo Niño,” he said.

The feast of Santo Niño holds a particularly special place in Father Aquino’s heart. The Jan. 15 feast day, while a moveable feast day, also happens to be Father Aquino’s birthday. “I’ve been very close to the Holy Child of Jesus. In many instances of my life, I find encouragement and affinity to the Holy Child,” he shared.

Tribu Orlando, a group of local Sinulog dancers, first started as a group of 20 Filipino families across the Diocese, coming together to pray a novena ahead of the Sinulog festival. A priest later recommended they open their celebrations and prayer to the larger Catholic community to participate. After the Jan. 29 Santo Niño celebration Mass, Tribu Orlando led several Sinulog dances.

“I love the devotion of Sinulog to Santo Niño,” said Lei Mosqueda, one of the Sinulog dancers and event organizers. “I apply this devotion every day in my life. I always ask Santo Niño to answer my prayers.”

Mila Ecle grew up in Manila and moved to the United States as young woman with her husband who was in the Navy. Event coordinator of the Diocese’s Filipino Ministry, Ecle said, “Santo Niño teaches us that our love to the Lord should be innocent like a child’s. Whatever children have, they are happy.”

By Dana Szigeti, Special to the Florida Catholic, February 02, 2023 

This sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Unborn Christ Child was unveiled this morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. The sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz is making its way to Washington, DC and arrived in Orlando just in time for local pro-life events including Mass for Life, Jan. 20 at the Basilica.

On March 2, Ash Wednesday and the one-week anniversary of the unjustified Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a bas-relief icon of Our Lady of Kiev was placed in the narthex of the Basilica with a backdrop of the colors of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow. It has been said that the colors of the flag represent the landscape with its golden crops ready for harvest and the brilliance of the blue sky. We hold our brothers and sisters in our hearts, in our affection and in our prayers, many of which are Orthodox or Ukrainian Catholic. May the Lord watch over them in their peril. May Our Lady of Kiev protect them in all their trials.

Our present-day Rite of Election is usually celebrated by the diocesan bishop on the First Sunday of Lent to elect and enroll catechumens for Easter Sacraments. Its very ancient origins are reflected in the structure of the new Rite: the calling forward of the catechumens; the testimony of their godparents; and the enrollment of their names in the Book of the Elect.

In the early Church, it was no small thing to become a Christian, and the catechumenate lasted anywhere from three to seven years. This included intense catechesis and rigorous moral conversion, as well as building mutual trust in times of Roman persecution. Our earliest written account of a Rite of Election comes from the third century Roman priest and martyr, St. Hippolytus (d. 235 AD). Around 215 AD, he compiled the “Apostolic Traditions” in order to preserve ancient Roman Christian practices. Among those, he briefly chronicles a catechumenate (cf. XX, nn. 1-3). Prior to entering the catechumenate, which is to last no less than three years, candidates are rigorously examined about their moral lives and whether they have immoral political, social, or labor connections. Then, they are examined again regarding their Christian virtue and charity, and if found worthy, are inscribed for Easter Sacraments.

Our other ancient source for the Rite of Election comes from a fourth century Christian woman or nun known only as Egeria, who chronicles her pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Itinerarium Egeriae, c. 381-4 AD), including details about the liturgies she observed. In her chapter on the administration of Baptism, she observes that on the second day of Quadragesima (Lent), catechumens and their godparents would be brought before the bishop to be rigorously interrogated about their conversion, their exercise of virtues, and the vices they still had. If the bishop was satisfied with their progress, he would inscribe their names into the “Book of Competents” and they would spend the rest of Lent in special catechesis in preparation for Easter Sacraments. (cf. Itinerarium, VII, 1)

By Father Jeremiah Payne, Special to the Florida Catholic, March 08, 2022

Click Rites Bring Catechumens Closer to the Sacraments to read more.

ORLANDO | Christian Brady grew up in Georgia with a devout Southern Baptist family who read the Bible frequently and practiced their faith diligently. As a teenager, he began to fall away from church and ultimately wondered if God truly existed. After a decade of considering himself practically an atheist, the 29-year old is ready to become Catholic. The loss of his grandmother to COVID last year and his father’s deep confidence in the promise of eternity, made him reconsider where he stood on Christianity.

It was February and Brady remembers driving to Georgia with his dad for the funeral. “His mother had just died and he was smiling and talking while I’m looking out the window thinking to myself, yeah dad, I’m never going to see grandmother again,” he said. Then a strange thing happened at the funeral. He sensed the Holy Spirit stirring, bringing to life those seeds of faith planted in his childhood. He returned home and told his Catholic fiancé, Kassie Hoffman, he wanted to go to church.

Kassie had also drifted from practicing her faith, so her first question was, “Why?” They were together more than five years at the time and his interest in converting to Catholicism was a surprise. “We both had a phase in our lives where we had fallen away,” she recalled. “I think it’s kind of miraculous that we found a way to God through everything. It’s been a blessing to our relationship. It’s taught me to view the faith with a fresh perspective and that, no matter how young or old you are, there is always something new to learn.”

Brady laughs now remembering his first Mass. The congregation prayed a Hail Mary and confused him. “I didn’t understand the significance of repetition, prayer, and all the rituals, something I am now starting to take for granted because I am really enjoying the Mass in the Catholic perspective. It feels like the closest roots to what Christianity should be.”

Soon after, Brady entered the Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at St. John Neumann Parish in Lakeland. He discerned and studied Catholicism earnestly, often raising questions that sparked deep discussion with his peers.

On March 6, after signing the Book of the Elect indicating his will to commit to the faith – through the affirmation of his sponsor and Bishop John Noonan, he participated in the Rite of Election at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. There, catechumens (those who have not been baptized) are deemed “Elect” – prepared to receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) at the Easter Vigil.

Deacon George Ferraioli, director of RCIA at St. John Neumann Parish in Lakeland with catechumen Christian Brady and his fiancé Kassie Hoffman just before the Rite of Election. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

Eager to share in the Sacraments, Brady has a particular appreciation for the sacramental life that was “completely missing from the version of Christianity I was brought up with,” he said. “Being a part of the liturgy is extremely sacred and mystical to me… it is all very interactive, and it feels like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.” He noted, “I know God has put me in this position coming closer to His faithfulness… Just because I’m almost 30 years late to the party doesn’t mean I was never invited.”

Brady has immense gratitude for his parents, raising him in Christian faith and for their support on this journey. They discuss varying points of view and he shares, “I was lost, but now am found.’”

He found that welcoming invitation in Kassie’s family as well. Kassie’s mother, Lisa, his sponsor, is a joyful witness to Catholicism. “Lisa has been so patient with all of my curiosity with the Catholic faith,” he noted.  “I have questions and Mama (as he calls her) has always given me answers. That openness and love of the faith to share – but not to force someone – really made me want to ask more questions. And it snowballed. I still have questions, but now it feels great to have discussions about Catholicism with my future wife’s family.”

He added, “Coming to the Catholic Church rekindled that childhood love I had. I saw no problem with keeping myself feeling that way. Not just recognizing being loved (by God) but putting myself out there and loving Jesus back – trying to love people like He loves them.”

Brady believes Catholicism is the “Truth”. “It is that light I’ve been looking for. That connection to Christ that you can only have by taking Him into your body—whole mind, heart, and soul, physical and spiritual. It is the ritual Christians have been doing since He told them to do it.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, March 08, 2022

Click What is Rite of Election to read more.