On March 14, 2021, Pope Francis celebrated a Holy Mass for the quincentennial of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines. It may not have gotten much international media attention, but surely, millions of Filipinos both in the Philippines and overseas witnessed the occasion that was shown in various platforms. For Cebuanos, it must have been a humbling experience hearing “Batobalani” and seeing Sinulog dancers during the processional as the beloved pontiff limped towards the grandiose St Peter’s Basilica. It was a totally beautiful celebration highlighted by the homily delivered in Italian. He anchored his discourse on the passage, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” He said: “This is the heart of the Gospel; this is the source of our joy. The more we love, the more we become capable of giving. That is also the key to understanding our life.”
The pope praised the Filipino people for the joy of bringing the faith to other lands “because wherever they go to work, they sow the faith. It is part of your genes, a blessed ‘infectiousness’ that I urge you to preserve. Keeping bringing the faith, the good news you received 500 years ago, to others.”
A day earlier on March 13, about 200 Filipinos with their non-Filipino spouses and friends participated in the Eucharistic celebration in St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Hamilton, launching in New Zealand the observance of the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. It was less grand, yet full of meaning as well. The mass began with a liturgical dance and closed with Sinulog dancing to the beat of the song I’ve written, “Pit Senor! (Awit para sa Sto. Niño)” that was recorded by Manny Lapingcao. Bishop Steve Lowe of the Diocese of Hamilton based his sermon on the theme “Gifted to Give.” He remarked, “Three of our parishes (in Hamilton) were dying and the Filipinos have brought them new life. And we need to continue to make and bring that life to our parishes.”
March 16 marked the “discovery” of the Philippines and I joined Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand Jesus Domingo in the virtual program NetKapihan hosted by Direk Rene Nonoy Molina. All of us agreed that the word “discover” is not appropriate as pre-Spanish Philippines had civilized kingdoms that traded with other countries.
Domingo said it was the Filipinos who discovered Magellan, while Molina described the meeting of Rajah Humabon and the Portuguese explorer as an encounter. Fr Fernando Alombro who joined the
program later expounded on the Quincentennial Mission Cross that was crafted by a New Zealander. The clergy who hails from Bukidnon was bringing the cross to different ecclesial communities during his Friday masses as part of revitalizing the faith and of evangelization. Fr. Alombro’s mission, as should be ours as well, was echoed in the words of Pope Francis as he called on the faithful “to persevere in the work of evangelization....”