MANILA – While scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed one day, an image of a tiny Santo Niño de Cebu caught the eye of Karen Fontillas. She instantly wanted one for her brother who collected sacred images of the Child Jesus. Little did she know that other saints depicted as childlike would soon earn a special space in her own home.
Fontillas, who hails from Zambales, is just one of the many collectors of chibi saints. She currently has over 100 chibi saints inside her room. No doubt that they’re cute, but she says they also help her pray and meditate.
For her, each chibi saint represents her family history -- a way to recall the religious sites she and her family visited when her mother was still alive.
“My reason for collecting them isn’t to show them off, but it’s my way of expressing devotion,” she told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.
Because certain Catholic traditions and practices were either limited or modified due to the pandemic, Fontillas turned to her chibi saints as a visual reminder of her faith and devotion to these holy men and women.
“These saints are humans who did something miraculous. The stories behind the life of each saint really interest me,” she added.
Chibi saints can be found online and in physical stores such as Chibi Maria, Pious Creations, Saintly Inspirations, and Vela Chibis. They’re made of fiber resin, stand a little over three inches, and sell between PHP200 and PHP300 price range. The term chibi is a Japanese term for “small” or “short.”
Collectors are bound to find the popular saints like the four evangelists -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in stores that sell them, but may also be pleasantly surprised to see lesser-known intercessors in there too.
Childlike versions of the many titles of which the Virgin Mary holds such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and Our Lady Manaoag among others are also much sought-after.
These sacred images, which are sometimes kept in retablos -- a shelf behind the altar -- are often designated for veneration.
Just as people remember their loved ones by looking at their photographs, the Catholic Church has long been using sacred images such as paintings and statues to recall and represent the example of models of the Catholic faith.
Fr. Michell Joe "Jojo" Zerrudo, parish priest at the St. Joseph the Worker Parish and minister in the Catechetical Ministry of the Diocese of Cubao, said the faithful also need to be constantly reminded of their “spiritual family.”
“If we see the need to surround ourselves with pictures of family and friends then also we see our need to surround ourselves with the pictures of our Lord, our Lady, the pictures of the saints because they are family to us,” Fr. Zerrudo said.
Sacred images are also used as teaching tools to commemorate certain people and events.
Jasper Lu, co-founder of Pious Creations, recalled a time when a 10-year-old boy came up to their booth only to name all the chibi saints on display.
“Mas kabisado niya pa yung name ng mga saints kaysa sa amin (He memorized the names of the saints better than we do),” he said.
The Church condemns the sin of idolatry. However, Fr. Zerrudo said that there is a distinction between worshipping statues and desiring to visually remember Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor.
“Catechism is a form of imparting knowledge. As human beings, we know only what passes through the senses. That is why the best way to teach the faith is to show children pictures. Adults nga kailangan ng picture, e di lalo na yung bata (If adults need pictures, how much more children),” he added.
Patricia Gail Patawaran, who hails from Pampanga, has 16 chibi versions of the Virgin Mary’s many titles in her collection as well as that of the Holy Family.
Her father, Roberto Patawaran Jr., even built her a house-shaped wooden display shelf to make sure all of them have a chance to shine.
"Yun po bahay ng chibi, ang gumawa po father ko. Tuwing Christmas, gumagawa po siya nung higaan ni Baby Jesus (My father built a house for my chibi saints. Every Christmas, he would also be tapped to make the crib of Baby Jesus)," she said.
Apart from increasing her faith, the younger Patawaran said her chibi Marian collection spurs in her a desire to serve in Church and support businesses producing them.
Among these businesses is Pious Creations, which started producing and selling chibi saints as a way to earn extra income. Lu had a change of heart after hearing stories of how these childlike figures inspired people when their founders decided to make it their personal mission to promote the Catholic faith.
“Nung napunta ako sa line of business na ‘to na-realize ko bigla yung impact nila sa life of every Christian (When I ventured into this line of business, I suddenly realized their impact in the lives of every Christian). Sobrang (I feel so) blessed to have this as not just a source of income but also para makapag-inspire at makapag-promote ng (but also to inspire and promote) Catholic faith,” he said.
As if taking their cue from the curly-haired statue of the Child Jesus, the trend of making childlike versions of saints emerged during the pandemic but it looks like they’re here to stay.
Baguio City-based Elizabeth Rasalan, 68, says the chibi saints keep her feeling “youthful” because they spark so much joy in her heart.
“Natutuwa lang ako ma makita sila dahil buhay na buhay sila (It makes me so happy seeing them because they look so animated),” Rasalan said.
Although she only started collecting them in April last year, she now has 37 chibi saints. She said she is looking forward to adding more to her collection.
Saints may not have been perfect people, but Fr. Zerrudo said that all saints share a common attribute—childlike humility.
“For one, the saints were once children. No saint even skipped childhood before they became an adult. If they remind you of the words of Christ that ‘Unless you [change and] become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven’, then I think the chibi saints have achieved also a purpose in evangelization,” he said. (PNA)