Kiwi-Filipinos now Papal Knight and Dame

by Rowena Orejana

The Kiwi-Filipino couple who first brought the devotion to the Santo Niño to Auckland 26 years ago have been made a knight and a dame of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

Oscar and Miriam Batucan, founder and organisers of the NZ Filipino Devotees of the Senyor Sto. Niño, were made knight and dame of the Sylvestrine Order by Pope Francis in recognition of their active participation in the life of the Church in Auckland.

The award was given upon recommendation of Auckland Bishop Patrick
Dunn, who described Mr and Mrs Batucan as “stalwarts in the Filipino community over many years, especially in the Santo Niño devotion”.

The award was given to the couple by vicar-general Msgr Bernard Kiely on
behalf of Bishop Dunn at the Eventfinda Stadium, formerly the North Shore
Events Centre, on January 19.

The Pontifical Order of St Sylvester is one of five Orders of Knighthood awarded directly by the Pope as Supreme Pontiff and head of the Catholic Church and as the Vatican City head of state.

Mr Batucan said the award came as a surprise.

“We didn’t expect it. We received a call (from Bishop Patrick Dunn’s office)
asking for our full names. So, I gave it to them. I didn’t think anything of it,”
he said.

“I feel like I’m walking on clouds,” he added. “I’m so amazed at being acknowledged.”

Mrs Batucan said she was overwhelmed by the honour.

“We keep on doing things to serve the Lord. Sometimes, we didn’t know if what we were doing is right or not, if we were reaching people with the grace of God, but we just kept going,” she said.

“We have been serving the Church for 26 years without any expectations. We just love serving the Lord.”

Msgr Kiely, in his homily, acknowledged the Filipino community’s contribution to New Zealand, citing their courage in leaving their homeland behind and making a new life in this country.

“We acknowledge an important dimension in what it is to be a Filipino:
your faith,” he said.

He said their devotion to the Child Jesus is marked by child-like “simplicity,
obedience and trust in God”, but noted that, at the same time, it is a “mature discipleship”.

Msgr Kiely also prayed for the tens of thousands of Filipinos affected by the explosion of Taal Volcano in the Philippines.

The Mass started with the traditional Sinulog dance, with women in Filipino native costumes moving two steps forward and one step back. The huge statue of the Santo Niño was processed in and displayed on the right-hand side of the stage, while hundreds of smaller statues decorated the front of the stage.

Filipino priests Frs Gilbert Ramos, Carlos Guleng, Sam Pulanco and Larry
Rustia were concelebrants at the Mass. Fr Pulanco, a devotee of the Sto Niño, led the crowd in singing and dancing at the end of the Mass.

The original statue, one of the oldest Christian relics in the Philippines, is presently housed at the Basilica Minore Del Sto. Niño in Cebu City in the Philippines.

The nearly 500-year-old statue was a gift to Filipino chieftain Rajah Humabon’s wife, Amihan, by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.

Pope Francis had been invited by the Catholic Bishops Conference of
the Philippines to revisit the country next year to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the country’s conversion to Christianity.