CEBU CITY—Kept in a bombproof vault, the historic icon of the Sto. Niño de Cebu spent seven months in the safekeeping of Redemptorist priests at the close of World War II.
Fr. Harold Rentoria, OSA, said the Augustinians had to bring the image to the Redemptorist Church in uptown Cebu City because the basilica located at Cebu City’s pier area had been destroyed by bombings in 1945.
For Catholics, the symbolism is clear: the child Jesus took shelter in the home of his mother under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Seventy years ago, the icon of the Holy Child was hidden in a vault in the monastery.
“The vault was placed under the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” Rentoria told the Inquirer.
The metal vault still exists.
According to an account of the emergency transfer written by Fr. Antonio Dizon, OSA, the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was kept in an underground chamber by the Redemptorists, who were mostly American and Irish missionaries.
Why the Redemptorist monastery?
Its location at the time in a countryside setting amid mango trees and cornfields made the building far enough from trouble, he wrote.
Heavy bombardment had damaged other Cebu churches, including the Sto. Niño or San Agustin Church and convent near the harbor.
At one time, a bomb was dropped near the main altar of Sto. Niño church, Dizon wrote. The sacred image, which was at the center with no protective glass case, shook but did not fall to the ground.
It was found tilting and hanging, with the cape snagged on the electric candles of the altar. After that, Augustinian friars took the image from the debris of the church and brought it to the Redemptorist monastery, the first time the icon had left its base since its enthronement in 1740.
The Augustinian friars’ account appears in a devotional booklet of the Redemptorists printed in 1984: “Among gidala kining dyutay’ng Bata sa balay sa Iyang Inahan, siya karun nagabantay kaniya (We brought this little Child Jesus to the house of His Mother who now takes charge of Him).”
Firsthand accounts are sketchy, he wrote, so a photo of the return of the statue is precious evidence of the cooperation of both religious congregations in the wartime emergency.
The archive photo shows the end of the seven-month sanctuary on April 20, 1945 with Fr. Thomas McHugh, the Irish rector at the time, turning over the image of Sto. Niño, with its crown, cape and pedestal intact, to Fr. Leandro Moran, OSA. The photo is kept at MacArthur Memorial Museum in Norfolk, Virginia.
It was also during the close of World War II that the original icon of the Sto. Niño de Cebu fell from its niche and acquired a “chipped eye and scratched cheek.”
The incident left a visible “scar” on the right upper cheek, which remains one of the signature marks of the Sto. Niño de Cebu.