After 32 years of being ‘lost’

TACLOBAN CITY – After more than three decades, the Señor Santo Niño de Malitbog has finally returned to His home, the Malitbog Church.
Prior to His return to the Malitbog Church, the Child Jesus first visited the Santo Niño Church here in the city last November 27 where He was welcomed by Señor Santo Niño de Tacloban and Señor Santo Niño de Limasawa at the entrance of the church.
Devotees and religious leaders were also present when the image arrived.
Señor Santo Niño de Malitbog was brought back to the region by Francis Ong, a collector who was in possession of the image since November 2019 after its previous owner died.
He was accompanied by Prof Eric Zerrudo, priest from Malitbog, and the lead dancer of Malitbog festival contingent to Sinulog when it was lost.
A blessing was offered by priests of the Santo Niño Church when the image arrived last night.
Last Saturday (Nov.28), a formal turnover of the image was held at the Santo Niño Parish Malitbog which was accepted by Maasin Diocese Bishop Precioso Cantillas at the more than 200-year old Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Maasin commonly known as the Maasin City Cathedral from Ong.
In his message, Bishop Cantillas shared the great joy of the diocese and the rest of the faithful on the return of the image which he compared to the Gospel story when the child Jesus was lost in the temple and was later found by Mary and Joseph.
Bishop Cantillas added that the finding of the lost Santo Niño de Malitbog will never happen without the help of Francis Ong whom he referred as “used by the Santo Niño” for the diocese to find him.
“For this Mr. Francis Ong, the Diocese of Maasin are grateful for you for the coming of Santo Niño de Malitbog and in the Diocese of Maasin,” he said.
After the turnover of the image to the Diocese of Maasin, a motorcade from the Maasin Cathedral to the Malitbog church, which is more than 60 kilometers away, followed.
The motorcade was welcomed with a festive mode by dancers and hundreds of faithful in Malitbog town.
A Eucharistic celebration was held at the Santo Niño Parish Malitbog after the motorcade.
The Santo Niño image believed to be crafted by local artisans in the 1720s “to be a replica of Cebu’s Santo Niño,” was first enshrined inside the parish in Malitbog town after its church construction in 1857.
The image was lost in 1988 after the contingent from the town joined the Sinulog Festival in Cebu.
Last September 18, Ong said that he found an article with photos about the missing statue and had “uncanny semblance” to an image in his collection.
With the help of his friends, Jayson Maceo, who is creating a Sto. Niño that the Diocese of Maasin will use for the 500th anniversary of the first Mass in Limawasa next year, on March 31, 2021 and was working as an apprentice to Dr. Rafael Lopez, a protégé at restoring antique pieces, they immediately get in touch with the Diocese of Maasin, which confirmed is in fact Malitbog’s lost icon.