With thousands of pilgrims coming to Cebu City for his feast, it's an often-repeated and valid question : Is that the real miraculous image?
The red-robed icon used for the religious processions by sea and land this weekend land are ?exact replicas? of the centuries-old statue brought to Cebu four centuries ago by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.
The original image given to Cebu natives in 1521, planting the first seeds of Christianity here, remains in its glass case in the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño where it is venerated by an unending stream of devotees who line up to kiss or touch the image
This is the oldest known religious image in the Philippines.
At the fluvial procession on Saturday, the image that will be used is the one blessed by (the late) Pope John Paul II, said Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, chairman of the Archdiocesan Commission on Worship, who is himself an avid collector of all kinds of Sto. Niño figures since he was a little boy.
John Paul II granted a plenary indulgence for those who will venerate this image.
?The Pope exclaimed 'The Sto. Niño of Cebu!' when he saw the image,? which was blessed at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence,? said Garcia. That image of the Holy Child was brought around Italy, especially to Filipino communities.
Garcia acts as custodian and keeps the pilgrim image at the Society of the Angels of Peace convent in Cansojong, Talisay City together with a document that contains the details of the Pope's plenary indulgence.
The fluvial procession will have bancas and motorboats escorting the traveling image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu and the Our Lady of Guadalupe at dawn from the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Mandaue City to Cebu City, for its return to the basilica.
Then in the afternoon, devotees follow the image on a flower-decked carroza in the streets. The solemn foot procession this year is a seven-kilometer walk from the Basilica Del Sto. Niño to different parts of the city and back to the church.
This image is also a replica to avoid any untoward damage that may befall it, like the time the real icon fell from its stand about 15 years ago.
?It is a very exact replica of the one inside the Basilica (del Sto. Niño). This is the one being kept inside the rector's office,? he told Cebu Daily News.
?(Cebu Archbishop Ricardo) Cardinal Vidal did not like having the original image taken from the urna (glass case) because on the day of the procession there is a long line of people who want to venerate the original image,? he said.
?Vidal pitied the many people who come from different places just to kiss the Sto. Nino. So, the image is only taken out of the urna once a year. This is the time when the vestments of the Sto. Niño are changed. Of course, this is done privately,? he said.
The replica of the Sto. Niño used for the solemn procession is dressed with the actual vestments used on the original image in the previous year.
The crown, a gift of the late President Carlos P. Garcia, is made of gold and pearls.