Home Catholic Church & Asia From darkness to light: A priest’s encounter with the Philippines' Child Jesus

From darkness to light: A priest’s encounter with the Philippines’ Child Jesus

Father Leonilo Dagpin Jr. promised to continue preaching the “marvels of the Sto. Niño”

Stories abound attesting to the miraculous powers of the Senor Sto. Niño in Cebu, and among them is the personal “encounter” of a downhearted Dipolog priest whose spirits were “lifted out from darkness and brought into the light.”

Father Leonilo Dagpin Jr. shared his encounter with the Senor Sto. Niño in a homily during the concelebrated Novena Mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu Pilgrim Center.

Father Jun, now the administrator of the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Barangay Sta. Filomena, Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte province, said the Sto. Niño, appeared to him while he was lying on a bed inside a small room at the Patria de Cebu recuperating from major bone fractures, damage on his face and right eye caused by a freak accident in Dipolog City, five years ago.



He narrated that on March 26, 2017, he was in a hurry for another Mass at another chapel in Dipolog when the motorcycle he was driving flipped over after hitting an uneven surface due to ongoing asphalting at that time.

The priest said that in the aftermath of the accident, he was thinking that the broken bones in both arms, damaged face and right eye would render him inutile and useless, and even questioning God why drunkards and reckless riders could go on “motor banking” without meeting any accident at all.

“You know what, I was so depressed. In a hospital in Dipolog, I already questioned God why the accident happened. I said to the Lord: why me who had just said a Holy Mass? The Mass was for you. I am your priest. I asked the Lord why did he allow it, seeing the damage,” said Father Jun in a mix of English and Cebuano.

Encounter with a ‘little boy with curly hair asking for water’

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Father Jun said he was transported to Cebu via a sea vessel and was confined at the Chong Hua Hospital for several months, and thanks to his siblings and other benefactors, he was able to secure money for his hospitalization.

“But deep in my heart, the PhP500,000 that was raised for my hospitalization did not give the peace that I wanted, because, during that time, I was very depressed,” he said.

His depression worsened when the hospital administration asked him to find another place, suggesting that extending his stay would only pile up his medical bills.

The advice of the hospital administration forced his family to rent a room at the Patria de Cebu, an inn owned and managed by the Archdiocese of Cebu, where priests could get big discounts.

An image of the Santo Niño on display at a shopping mall in Manila ahead of the celebration of its ‘feast.’ (Photo by Jire Carreon)

“One day, while inside my room, I was lying on my bed because I can’t even tilt my body to the side because both of my arms were cemented, and I can’t see a thing because my eyeglasses got broken during the accident. My parents were there when we heard someone knocking on the door. When my mother opened the door, I saw a little boy with curly hair and a radiant face who asked for water,” Father Jun narrated.

He recalled that his mother asked the boy why he was asking for water, wondering why a young vagrant would neither ask for money nor food, but something to drink.

“The boy replied to my Mama: ‘I asked for water, but they did not give me’,” the priest said, recalling how the boy’s words, which was stated in an innocent voice, struck him and gave him goosebumps.

Father Jun said the boy’s message brought him back to the Gospel of John, Chapter 19 Verse 28, where Jesus, while hanging on the Cross, uttered: “I am thirsty.” The centurions denied Jesus water and instead gave him vinegar soaked in a sponge.

After his mother gave him a bottle of water, the little boy went away. Father Jun said his mother started to follow him, but went back to close the door, and in just five seconds, the boy disappeared from their sight.

The priest’s father went to the chapel to pray because of the encounter.

When the priest’s mother went to the chapel (situated near the gate of the Patria but about 10 doors away from the room they rented) to see her husband and asked if he saw where the boy was, the priest’s father said he did not see the boy passing by the place.

The priest’s mother went back to the room in tears.

A devotee inspects an image of the Santo Niño that is on display at a shopping mall in Manila on Jan. 11, 2023. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

“According to my father, the boy was transmitting a kind of energy, a power, a strength while staring at me lying in my bed,” Father Jun said.

His parents verified to the security guard detailed at the front gate who then told them: “We don’t allow children here (Patria) as we don’t allow beggars inside.”

When the mother who was sobbing in tears asked him: “Jun, who was he?” He replied: “Ma, it was the Sto. Niño! The Holy Child Jesus visited me while I am on the verge of my suffering because of my condition after the accident.”

Father Jun said the encounter lifted his spirits, and moved him to utter: “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Sto. Niño for visiting me at this time in my life when I needed you most!”

Marvels of the Sto. Niño

In September 2022, the holy image of the Sto. Niño visited the Diocese of Dipolog.

Father Jun said it was a coincidence that the remaining half day before the party that brought the image would travel back to Cebu was spent in his parish where the people got the chance to venerate the Holy Child.

He said he was “honored and privileged” to celebrate a Holy Mass in his parish where the Sto. Niño was enthroned and became emotional when he shared — which he has been doing for five years now – about his close encounter with the “little boy with curly hair asking for water.”

Father Jun promised to the thousands of devotees who attended the Holy Mass he was presiding along with dozens of concelebrants to continue preaching the “marvels of the Sto. Niño,” even as he said that there are many old stories about the locals having an experience with the Holy Child.

One of them was about the Sto. Niño image that disappeared from the “urna” or religious shrine, and at the same time, a little boy appeared at a market and asked for fish from a vendor. When asked who would pay for the fish, the boy would say to collect it from the priest.

In a nearby church, the Sto. Niño would appear again on the altar with fish at his feet.

Santo Niño
A devotee of the Child Jesus carries an image of the Santo Niño in Quezon City’s Bago Bantay district on the eve of the ‘feast’ on January 16, 2021. (Photo by Gil Nartea)

In San Nicolas de Tolentino, the Philippines’ first pueblo, a story about the Sto. Niño as a wanderer was a story told to children. According to the story, the Sto. Niño would disappear from the altar and at the same time, the children playing on the patio would see a little boy playing with them.

And when the priest would ask the playing children if they saw a child with red garment, that little boy would disappear. At night, the priest would become busy pulling out amorseco thorns stuck on the Sto. Niño’s garment.

Cebuanos regard the Sto. Niño as miraculous. Many downtrodden individuals would always associate their encounter with an unknown “boy with curly hair” as the miraculous Child, viewing it as a blessing.

The image of the Sto. Niño now enshrined at the 457-year-old Basilica named after him, is the oldest Christian artifact in the Philippines. It was originally a gift from Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his wife, Reyna Humamay, on account of their Christian baptism in 1521 or 502 years ago.

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