His four-day-old fever left four-year-old Richard Nobis at high noon on April 28, 2012.
The healing happened moments after the boy’s mother, Elsa, brought him before an image of the Holy Boy Jesus of Cebu.
Hours later, she recounted the miracle as she sat on a warm spare tire aboard a navy ship’s bow deck.
The 39-year-old’s tale became mid-afternoon delight to a small audience: the scribe Cirdan Giovanni Elendil, teacher Juno Clemente, young navy ensign Martin Blanca and two monks.
Planktons and fish swimming near the vessel on placid Mactan Channel might have hearkened to Elsa’s sharing. Saint Francis of Assisi would have known. Sister Water danced at the touch of Brothers Wind and Air. Quivering with a rumor’s tempo, the pair carried all manner of sound beyond the BRP Hen. Emilio Aguinaldo.
“We were stowaways,” Elsa said, her raspy voice riding the ship engine’s drone. Richard and his sister Erlich, 6, snuggled up to mother, precious lambs secure in the crooks of their shepherd’s arms. “We slipped into the ship this morning, when they brought in the statue of the Santo Niño.”
Filipino mariners have looked to the Santo Niño or Holy Boy Jesus as El Capitan-General since the 16th century. After the leader of the Spanish armada, King Philip II, crafted the title, sculptors carved the skipper-general’s likenesses in wood for enthronement in the boats of conquistadors.
One such image stood amid a flower-capped glass-bounded dais on Aguinaldo’s prow deck. Clad in a battle suit—snow vest, rose cape and gold crown—the Santo Niño bore an orb of sovereignty in its left hand, a scepter of peace in its left. El Capitan-General steered the vessel to Mactan Island in the morning and directed her to Pier 1 of Cebu City’s international port as the sun westered.
“I heard about this sea procession one Friday before Mass ended at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño,” Elsa continued. The mother lived in the faraway mountains of Toledo City but devoutly visited the basilica for Friday novena Masses, hitching rides to cover the distance.
When Richard took ill, she had neither the cash to bring him to a doctor nor the time to wait in line for village health workers to nurse him back to health.
“I decided to bring him to God,” she said, “so that he would be well again.”
For a Catholic Cebuano mother or father, to bring a child to God is a metaphorical statement that means taking a kid to visit (on a pilgrimage to) the Santo Niño in his house (shrine) to catch up with (pray to) the invisible Boy Jesus.
God demanded nothing in exchange for the friendship of visitors, yet children learn from their mamas and papas to show the Santo Niño signs of love: Go to the basilica and follow the queue to the Marble Chapel. In the chapel, make the Sign of the Cross, wave at the Santo Niño and say a prayer like the “Our Father.” Held aloft by Mama or Papa, kiss the glass or wipe it with a hanky (since your lips cannot touch the figurative God behind it). Leave some candies—three pieces of Halls, Snow Bear or Lipps—on the pedestal. Wave goodbye.
Elsa and her kids went down to Cebu City for a date with God on Kaplag Day. The feast commemorated Juan Camus’ rediscovery of El Capitan-General in 1565.
Camus, a sailor in the fleet of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, found the image unscathed in a pine box amid the fire-razed village of Cebu.
Antonio Pigaffeta wrote in his journal that he himself gave the Santo Niño—skipper general of Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition—to Juana, the queen of Cebu, when Father Pedro Valderrama baptized her.
Four hundred forty-seven years later, in foot and fluvial parades, clergymen and members of the Philippine Navy escorted the statue from Cebu City to Mactan Island and back. Devotees like miracle-hunting Elsa joined their ranks.
Twice, she brought Richard in front of the Santo Niño: Once when his image arrived at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Rule, a second time when it visited the Saints Peter and Paul Chapel of Naval Forces Central; the first time in petition, the second in thanksgiving for the boy’s healing.
In the course of the motorcade from one prayer spot to the next, Richard’s fever subsided and departed.
The scribe Cirdan could not guess how his fellow listeners felt after listening to Elsa’s story. But he saw teacher Juno draw out of her bag a dumpling that she gave to Erlich. Another lady, who had joined the little circle, gave Elsa a bottle of water to drink. Teacher Juno said that her brother, a doctor, lived in Elsa’s home city. She wrote a note that the mother was to carry and hand to the physician when they come home so he could give her son a proper medical check. When Richard said he wanted to relieve himself, ensign Martin made light of the family’s stowaway act and offered to lead the boy to the rest room and back. Hungry Erlich did not wolf down her dumpling. She gave it to her mother, who cut it into two pieces, one each for the little girl and her brother.