Quezon City’s Barangay of Ramon Magsaysay was named the after the 7th Philippine president, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay Sr. (1907-1957), right after his death when his plane crashed into Mt. Manunggal in Cebu. Before that, the barangay was named Bago-Bantay (New Guard), which it is sometimes referred to today. Bao-Bantay started as a small barrio in the 1930s, but the population ballooned significantly, after thousands of displaced families moved from the City of Manila, after it was damaged by the bombing of World War II. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, more families were moved into Bago-Bantay, from the Intramuros, Singalong, Paco and Tondo districts of Manila, after the some clearing operations of squatter colonies.
These new migrants brought more problems to the community, as the local Manila criminal gangs started carving their territories through the streets of Bago-Bantay. Gambling, prostitution, drugs, street fights, rape and murder were soon common events in the area, led by the notorious Oxo, Sigue-Sigue and Bahala Na Gangs. Although the local authorities tried their best to remedy the situation, nothing much was achieved until the arrival of Fr. Miguel P. Nuguid as the parish priest in 1967.
Before the construction of the Santo Niño Parish, there was a small wooden chapel that was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Jesuit priests from the San Jose Seminary (now the Quezon City General Hospital), before the Jesuits transferred to the Ateneo de Manila campus. In 1962, a new modernist low roofed chapel was erected, and renamed after the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). However in 1964, the chapel was destroyed by Typhoon Dading (international code: Winnie), and the residents had to hear mass at the local Army Compound Chapel or at the Christ the King Parish, which was roughly 700 meters away. When the chapel was reconstructed, it was declared as a parish, and Fr. Miguel P. Nuguid became its first parish priest.
Upon his arrival, Fr. Nuguid recognized the problems of the area and started enacting programs for changing the community. First, he went house-to-house speaking with the leaders and members of the local gangs to lay down their people and participate in community and parish affairs. Then he worked with the retired public school teacher, Mrs. Romana Delos Angeles, and the Catholic Women’s League, to establish the Santo Niño Parochial School (opened 1968). And finally, he campaigned for the construction of a new church, which would house the growing population.
Fr. Nuguid’s efforts paid off, and many of the residents actively worked for the building of the community and the parish church. Construction started in 1978, but Fr. Nuguid was never able to witness its completion, in 1981. Fr. Nuguid died of a heart attack, and was replaced by Fr. Marcelino O. Reyes, who continued the work and saw the church’s completion in 1983.
The new church was soon declared as a National Shrine, and was previously named as the home of the new Vicariate of Santo Niño, under the Archdiocese of Cubao. Under this new vicariate are the Holy Family Parish, the Immaculate Conception Parish, Our Lady of Hope Parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish. And in 2016, the parish was honored with a Paenitentiaria Apostolica, which a Plenary Indulgence for all of those who take a pilgrimage to the Santo Niño Church.
The selection of the Santo Niño as the new patron saint of the chapel is part of the Filipino Catholic’s devotion to the Christ Child, which is as old as the arrival of Catholicism in the Philippines. The first religious image to reach the Philippine shores was a Flemish sculpture of the Christ Child, which was brought by the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521). Upon meeting Rajah of Cebú Humabon and his wife Hara Humamay, Magellan gave the image to Humamay, after she and her husband converted to Christianity, and taking the Juana and Carlos in 1521. The icon was rediscovered 44 years later, when the soldiers of the Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi (1502-1572), found it buried in a pine box after a bloody battle that left much of Cebú in ashes. Since then, the Santo Niño has been the patron saint of the island and city of Cebú, as well as many other parishes throughout the country. In Metro Manila, there are 6 parishes dedicated to the Santo Niño in Pandacan (established 1712) and Tondo (established 1625) in Manila, Parañaque (established 1995), Commonwealth in Quezon City (established 1981), Greenbelt (established 1983) in Makati, and Taguig (established 1987).
The appointment of the Santo Niño Parish as a pilgrimage shrine is the community’s honor, after years of trying to end the cycles of violence and crime in their area. As the church now represents the heart and home of the people’s faith, they commemorated this with the golden words etched onto the lectern, with the Latin quote: “Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis”. This is taken from the Bible verse of John 1:14, which states: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. Aside from the immediate reference of Jesus Christ as the embodiment of the Old Testament prophets’ words come to life; it can also be translated as the people’s faith realized with the construction of the church.
Designed by Arch. Juanito M. Santiago, the Santo Niño Parish is of a simple modernist design, with hardly any ornamentation. Yet its open spaces and exact use of natural light led to it being declared “The Most Beautiful Church in Quezon City”, right after its construction. Latter renovations added some typically Filipino Baroque influences, such as the retablo (altarpieces) at the main altar and the transepts.
Aside from the 5.5 meter (18 feet) tall statue of the Santo Niño at the façade of the church and the lone icon at the altar retablo, there a two more images that celebrate the patron of the parish. The first is the large mural at the choir loft of the narthex. The painting was created by a certain Jess Perez and Jim de Tagle, which features “The Blessed Santo Niño and the Holy Trinity”. In this artwork, the center is the Christ Child as above him is God the Father and Holy Spirit. Below him are the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin praising him. At the bottom of the work are images of Cardinal Jaime Lachica Sin (1928-2005), Fr. Nuguid and Fr. Reyes consecrating the new parish.
The other image of the Christ Child can be found at the only stained glass window at the left side of the church’s façade. Rendered in the Romantic style, the stained glass window feature the Blessed Madonna carrying the Infant Jesus, while above in the heavens is God the Father and a triangle representing the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit.
In almost every Catholic church, there is a small sculpture installed by the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which is an anti-abortion piece dedicated to the unborn child. Each chapter seeks a local artist to realize their vision, and each piece differs from those of other churches. At the Santo Niño Parish, the 2006 Monument to the Unborn Child follows the simple modernist design of Arch. Santiago, and features a concrete cross and stele with a hole in the center. The hole represents the womb, and the child lost.
The people of Bago Bantay have much to celebrate with the Santo Niño Parish, as its construction rallied its people to unite and end the turmoil in their community. The story isn’t just spoken during meetings or some masses, but their hard work and faith is commemorated in another mural by Jess Perez and Jim de Tagle, at the right side of the narthex. The Story of the Santo Niño Parish Shrine is a testimony of the community spirit of Bago Bantay.