THE Christianization of the Philippines is historically marked with the baptism of 800 Cebuanos led by Rajah Humabon and his wife Humani in 1521. Some suggest that Humabon was captivated by the teachings of Christianity. Yet there is also a view that by persuading Cebu’s leader to convert to Christianity and making him a “Christian King,” Magellan would promote Humabon as superior over the other chieftains and make him pledge allegiance to the Spanish king. What is certain is that it was the promise of discovering a new colony and finding a better route to the Spice Islands (or Malacca) that convinced King Charles I of Spain to finance the expedition.
In 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi defeated the defiant Rajah Tupas, forcing the latter to sign the Treaty of Cebu, thus making it the first capital of Spain’s new colony. He named the settlement, “Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesús,” after the image of Sto. Niño was found in one of huts left undamaged after the siege. Tupas was converted to Christianity, as with his followers. Thus, began the spread of Christianity in the adjoining islands.
Jose Rizal exposed the questionable morals of the friars and paid dearly with his life. But there was no turning back: Christian teachings and practices had become embedded into the national psyche. Today, the churches remain full on Sundays. Annual fiestas honoring patron saints are observed in nearly all cities and municipalities.
The Philippines does not have a shortage of the religious. Presently, Filipino priests fill the vacuum of ministers in churches all over the world. For instance, in the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, New Zealand where I reside, we have three Bisaya-speaking priests, namely Fr. Fernando Alombro, Fr. Alfonso Dujali and Fr. Rico Enriquez.
But it is not only Filipino priests who are helping in the evangelization. Pope Francis has recognized the role of Catholic Filipinos who have migrated to other countries, calling them “smugglers of faith.” Referring to the tradition of “Simbang Gabi,” the Holy Father was quoted saying it “has crossed national borders and has arrived in many other countries,” thanks to Filipino migrants.
The Simbang Gabi presided by Pope Francis on Dec. 15, 2019 at the St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican is a watershed moment for Filipino Catholics. It was a subtle acknowledgment of the Vatican of the missionary work of Filipino laypersons not just in all corners of the earth, but also at the heart of Christianity.
And to top it all, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Luis Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples whose mission is “spreading the faith to the ends of the Earth.” It won’t be difficult work for Cardinal Tagle as Filipino foot soldiers and faithful are already stationed everywhere in the globe.