An image of the Child Jesus, or Santo Niño, that has been missing for 32 years from the Catholic parish in Malitbog town, Diocese of Maasin, was finally found.
The parish was once home to the treasured 300-year-old image that was venerated by the faithful until it went missing in the 1980s.
The disappearance of the image ended when Manila-based antique collector Francis Ong found an article with photos about the missing statue that has an “uncanny semblance” to an image in his collection.
Ong, who works as a marketing professional for a pharmaceutical company, said he acquired the image only in November 2019 because its last owner passed away.
“What a privilege to be able to have it in our home for a few months, such a revered and miraculous Niño,” he said.
“I am truly excited for the people of Malitbog. We now begin the Santo Niño’s journey home,” said Ong.
The Diocese of Maasin wrote to Ong expressing “great joy” for the discovery of the missing image.
“We will forever be grateful to you for being instrumental in the return of this sacred image of the infant Jesus,” read the diocese’s letter to Ong.
Father Vincent Salang, chancellor of the Diocese of Maasin, told LiCAS.news that security preparations for the return of the image to Malitbog are being finalized.
The priest said local accounts traced the Malitbog Santo Niño image to the 1720s. It is supposedly a replica of the famous image in Cebu.
Father Salang said the “crudeness” of the image is evident of local craftsmanship.
Malitbog became a parish in April 1850. The Santo Niño image was enshrined inside the church after its construction in 1857.
In 1988, however, the revered statue along with some church artifacts were stolen from the parish.
The diocese has been preparing for the quintennial celebration of the first Easter Mass that will be held on Limasawa Island on March 31, 2021.
Father Salang said they have also commissioned the creation of a Santo Niño image, which they would enthrone on Limasawa Island to remind the pilgrims of its connection with the image in Cebu.