Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

26 November 2006

Going on a Witch Hunt: interviewing the Santo Niňo

Resurrection wasted no time launching a campaign to save Miracle’s white eye. She lit candles at the church; attended church services everyday and fried up a side of belly pork for Father Bert the parish priest so that he would include Miracle in his prayers. She wholeheartedly believed that prayer would have the power to heal the white eye.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

In Catholic Philippines, the image of the Santo Niňo, as the Christ Child is lovingly known, is more ardently venerated than any other religious icon.

And here’s a claim to fame you won’t hear anywhere else: I am probably the only journalist in the world who has ever conducted an interview with the Santo Niňo face to face.

Ate Vecing – the Christ Child’s miracle workerIn the first installment of my witch hunt adventure, I described how my photographer friend Mandy Navasero and I observed and interviewed psychic surgeon Alex Orbito who performed bloody operations with his bare hands. Our next subject was Ate Vecing, a woman who performed miracles with the aid of the Santo Niňo.

The Santo Nino and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’Santo Niňo and Ate Vecing’s Chapel’ was an unassuming breeze block building with a large sign above the gate, here pictured with one of Ate Vecing's acolytes.

When our ancient Volkswagen Brasilia rattled to a stop in front of the gate, a woman came to greet us, dressed in white with a blue sash around her waist, blue rosary beads around her neck.

“Excuse us, we came to see Ate Vecing,” I said, politely explaining that we were journalists and wanted to write a story about her.

Mandy feeling for a pulse when Ate Vecing collapses

To our shock, no sooner had I finished speaking than the woman collapsed at our feet. Another woman in white with owlish spectacles rushed to gather her up.

“This is the Ate Vecing you are looking for!” she declared, rather imperiously.

“Is she all right?” Mandy asked, her voice anxious despite the fact that she was clicking away furiously with her camera.

To which the unconscious woman suddenly stiffened. “I am the Santo Niňo, I am the King of the World!” she cried in a high-pitched voice.

I didn’t quite know what to do. But Ate Vecing’s assistant seemed unfazed by the peculiar moment. She helped Ate Vecing back up to her feet – eyes still closed – and walked her into the chapel. On an altar, covered with a red plastic table cloth stood a large collection of Santo Niňo images. Rising above them was a crucified Christ and the figure of Maria Dolorosa – the sad Virgin.

“I am the Santo Niňo!” Ate Vecing piped up again.

Ate Vecing’s helper smiled encouragingly at me.

“Uh, what should I do now?” I said stupidly.

“Go ahead,” the helpful lady said. “Interview the Santo Niňo.”

All my years of journalism had not prepared me for this one. What was the etiquette when confronted with a divine interviewee?

I swallowed … and interviewed the Santo Niňo – who it turns out was pretty media savvy, opinionated about the state of the world, and given to speaking in verse.

Later, when Ate Vecing had emerged from her trance and the Santo Niňo had taken his leave, she told us her story.

Ate Vecing had a husband who beat her but she stuck by him because she was a woman of no education and they had eight children to feed. During one of his rages, he tied her to a chair and stabbed her several times with a knife. She survived and spent much time in Church begging God for an answer to her problems.

It was while she was praying at church that the Santo Niňo inhabited her for the first time. She found herself speaking in languages that she didn’t understand, speaking with wisdom and confidence that she didn't know she had.

Amazed supplicants watch Ate Vecing become the Santo NinoThe townspeople were amazed and word of her transformations spread quickly. People came from far and wide to beg her intercession with the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary. They donated sums that helped her build a home for her children and allowed her to live independently from her violent husband.

Most importantly, the group of believers that constantly surround her keep her safe from his attentions. Pictured is the small crowd that gathered while we were interviewing Ate Vecing.

Ate Vecing speaking as the Christ ChildThe Santo Niňo did more than just change Ate Vecing's fortune. He gave her peace.

Each of the Santo Niňo figures on the altar had a different facial expression. “See,” Ate Vecing explained to us. “Since the Santo Niňo came to me, I haven’t had to feel any pain in my heart. When I’m sad, the sad Santo Niňo speaks through me. When I’m angry, the angry Santo Niňo comes.”

Ate Vecing's collection of images covered a gamut of emotions and moods – even a flirtatious Santo Niňo.

Ate Vecing is truly blessed. The Santo Niňo has set her free ... in more ways than one.

Photographs © Candy Gourlay.



Anonymous stonemason said...

at first i thought this was a funny story but now i realise that it is unutterably sad. i'm glad ate vecing found a way out of her terrible life. good old santo nino!

Monday, 27 November, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ate Vecing had to become some kind of spiritist to escape domestic violence and poverty. Does this say something about the choices of women in the Philippines? I hope your book reflects these social realities. Thank you for the sad but strangely uplifting story.

Monday, 27 November, 2006  
Anonymous jackinthebox said...

Was it the Christ Child who set Ate Vecing free ... or was it Ate Vecing who set Ate Vecing free?

Tuesday, 28 November, 2006  

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