Perhaps it’s by some divine providence—a centuries-old statue of the infant Jesus, affectionally referred to as Sto. Niño, which was stolen from a parish church in Southern Leyte has been found after more than three decades.
The Sto. Niño image was found by a devotee and an antique collector from Manila who has decided to return the image to the Holy Child Church in Malitbog town.
Francis Ong, the man who found the image, said that he saw an article with photos about the missing statue on Sept. 18, which he realized that it had an “uncanny semblance” to an image in his collection. (Read: Blessed Sacrament Found Intact As Fire Razes Santo Niño Church in Manila)
He sought the help of his friends to get in touch with the Diocese of Maasin. The diocese then confirmed that the image under his possession is the long lost icon of Malitbog.
“There was no remorse nor regret but pure joy and happiness for not everyone is made a conduit for the recovery of such spiritual and cultural treasures,” Francis said in a CBCP News post.
He said that the image has been with him since November 2019 after its last owner passed away. “What a privilege to be able to have in our home for a few months, such a revered and miraculous Niño.”
The Sto Niño image was enshrined inside the Holy Child Church after its construction in 1857. (Read: The 10 Oldest Churches In The Philippines) According to Fr. Mark Vincent Salang, the diocese’s chancellor, locals believe that the Malitbog Sto. Niño was crafted in the 1720s “to be a replica of Cebu’s Sto. Niño.” (Read: Youth Pilgrims Flock to Cebu for National Youth Day)
The image was stolen, along with other church artifacts, 1988.
Fr. Salang added that “it is truly providential” that the image will return in time for the Church’s celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. “Was it the Child Jesus found or was it us finding Him? “It’s coming home to a community that continues to have a burning devotion to the Child Jesus,” he said.
Fr. Salang personally expressed his gratitude to Francis for returning the stolen image. “We will forever be grateful to you for being instrumental in the return of this sacred image of the infant Jesus,” he told Francis.