Rafa Antonio: Prayers in Dance

The author, Rafa Antonio, with Sinulog dancers. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ, January 2013.
The author, Rafa Antonio, with Sinulog dancers. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ, January 2013.

Right at home!

That was exactly how I felt the minute we were welcomed to the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu last January 18. We weren’t being “kapal” or anything. It was just the way they welcomed us. As soon as we entered the campus, there was loud happy music, cultural dances, echoing drumbeats, very colorful costumes and beautiful smiling faces. That wasn’t even the real Sinulog yet! Their unmatched hospitality made us feel like we belonged there. It was so amazing knowing that even though we were miles away from home, we found a family in each of them. They served as an inspiration to us that we may imitate the same hospitality and generosity — selflessly and without hesitation. Right at home. I knew at that moment,the weekend ahead would be full of fun and memorable experiences.

Saturday came and it will unfold to be like no other Saturday I’ve ever had! The day started with a Eucharistic celebration. Although it was held under the scorching heat of the sun, thousands of people managed to come and pay tribute to the Sto. Niño. The historical passing of the image of the Sto. Niño from Ferdinand Magellan To Reyna Juana was reenacted; and wow, what a sight it was! It would’ve been enough to hear the talented choir sing their hearts out but we were given way more than that. Hundreds of thousands of people from different cities and provinces came together in that one place to give honor to our Lord. Think of music bursting in the air everywhere. We joined the procession and walked for hours while praying the rosary and making waving gestures every time we’d reach a certain part of the prayer. We were surrounded by people whose numbers were increasing. I basked in the Filipinos’ extraordinary talent for music and their very spirited Christian culture.

The boys take a short nap during the Sinulog Festival 2013. Rafa is in blue shorts and a black bag. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ, January 2013
The boys take a short nap during the Sinulog Festival 2013. Rafa is in blue shorts and a black bag. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ, January 2013

Then Sunday came — that day was the Sinulog day. It is an annual festival held every third Sunday of January in honor of the Sto. Nino or Infant Jesus. Sinulog comes from the Cebuano word “sulog” which means “movement of water current.” Thus the festival’s dance consisted of the famous “two steps forward, one step back” motion, impersonating the water current. An official census stated that the number of people who were there reached millions. Not just thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions, more than 10 times 100,000. The streets were even more packed than the previous day.

We, the Ateneo de Manila delegation, assisted by the Ateneans from Cebu, got up really early that day, even before sunrise, and positioned ourselves on a spot where the parade would pass. Many different costumes and extravagantly decorated floats made the crowd cheer endlessly. Actors and many other popular personalities were part of the parade. Derek Ramsey and Gary Valenciano smiled and waved to the ecstatic crowd. And then there was Solenn Heussaff too and wow this was it, welcome to Sinulog! Joking aside, the parade went on and aside from Solenn, the “two step forward, one step back” dance captivated each and everyone in the crowd!People taking pictures. Dancers were in their most colorful clothes. People happily spraying beer and even paint at you or anyone else for that matter. They were screaming “It’s my birthday!” It WAS like it was everyone’s birthday. After all, it was the party of the year and everyone was invited! It remains to be one of the largest feasts in our country today. No wonder the Sinulog Festival is known the world over! We were told the people were out partying until 6am the following morning! But, being the VERY good…and underage Ateneans we were, we refrained from succumbing to the temptation of alcohol.

True enough, the weekend surpassed all expectations. At the end of the day, beyond all the parties and dances, beneath all the paint and the costumes you will find a beautiful culture abundant in love, respect, and honor for each other and for God. Truly what an enriching experience this was for myself, and surely for everyone else who was blessed to go. Cebu is an urbanized city like Manila. It is a beautiful city with beautiful people. I encourage everyone who may have the opportunity to experience what I did, to seize that chance and make the most of the experience!

Let’s us pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the many opportunities our school has offered us and continues to offer us. We thank you for the friends we made in Ateneo de Cebu; and for making us appreciate that despite the distance, we share the same values. Thank you for allowing us to be inspired by their generosity, truly men and women for others. Thank you for allowing us to experience our Catholic faith in joy and enthusiasm, with a people so devoted to the Sto. Nino. May all of these be our inspiration to continue to be a light to others. May we never stray away from You. And, in everything we think, do and say, may we be able to give praise and glory to Your Name forever. Amen.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Note: Rafa Antonio was in 3rd year high school when he joined the Ateneo High School’s first Spiritual-Cultural Pilgrimage in Cebu City— a partnership with the Ateneo de Cebu. This event started other visits to Naga City (September 2013) and to Davao City (29 August – 2 September 2014). Rafa is now in college at the Ateneo de Manila University.

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