500 years of Christianity in the Philippines

5 Q-cross

Filipino Catholic communities in New Zealand are to have a year-long celebration in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines.

MissioNZ national director Fr Bernard Espiritu, SVD, said it will be good to celebrate this event, as Filipino migrants have helped rejuvenate the Church wherever they go.

“It is a good idea to celebrate the 500th anniversary to give thanks. Also, Filipino migrants have become missionaries themselves,” he said.

Fr Espiritu said that, with the help of Meadowbank parishioner Dadai Norman, a Quincentennial Working Group was formed in late 2019.

While much of the planning was disrupted by the two lockdowns imposed last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he said they were still able to plan a religious celebration, as well as a civic one.

Apart from what their group is planning with the Philippine Embassy, each Filipino chaplaincy in the different dioceses has also lined up activities to mark this anniversary.

The theme chosen by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is “Gifted to Give”. “We have also adopted that theme, because we are ‘gifted to give’, too. We’ve been gifted with the faith, and we want to share our faith,” Fr Espiritu said. “We are hoping to invite Kiwis to celebrate with us.”

The first Mass on Philippine soil took place in Limasawa, Southern Leyte. It was celebrated by Spanish friar Fr Pedro Valderama on March 31, 1521, which was Easter Sunday.

Sir Oscar Batucan, chairman of the Auckland Catholic Filipino Chaplaincy, said they will hold a Mass on April 4, Easter Sunday, to kick off the celebrations.

“There will be a procession of the different devotional groups like the Santo Niño, the Peñafrancia, Black Nazarene, Manaoag, La Naval and others before the Mass. Afterwards, there will be a cultural presentation highlighting the growth of Christianity in the Philippines,” he said.

He said they are still finalising the venue.

The Quincentennial Working Group in Auckland, on the other hand, will hold a gala night on May 28, and a cultural presentation on October 16.

“Throughout the year, we have tree-planting activities through New Zealand as our civic activities [which are] our participation in New Zealand Conservation initiatives,” Mrs Norman said.

Godofredo Ordaneza makes a base for the Quincentennial Cross while wife, Elsie, looks on.

In Hamilton, the Filipino chaplaincy will hold a liturgical celebration in St Matthew’s Catholic Church in Silverdale, home to the image of Santo Niño de Cebu.

Hamilton Diocese Filipino chaplain Fr Fernando Alombro said Bishop Stephen Lowe will be presiding at the Launching Mass of the year-long celebration on March 13, 2021, at 10am.

Fr Alombro said they have had a special quincentennial mission cross made for the occasion, which was blessed in January on the feast of Santo Niño.

“It is hoped to be brought throughout the diocese in my Friday Masses. It can be brought, too, to different parts of the country when there are special liturgical occasions when needed,” he told NZ Catholic.

The Catholic bishops in the Philippines clarified the celebration would be about the Christian faith, not colonialism, which was Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan’s mission for the Spanish king.

“At some point, the faith that they (Filipinos) had embraced was no longer alien to them. It had succeeded in taking root on the fertile ground of our innate spirituality as a people . . . God can indeed write straight, even with the most crooked lines,” said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

Fr Espiritu said God writing straight, even with crooked lines, can also be seen in modern day Filipinos.

“Filipinos migrate to look for economic opportunities and to better their lives. But their faith is an integral part of them. Wherever they go, they pray. We are actually rejuvenating the Church because most of those who migrate are young people with young families, and they become even more active in their parishes,” he said.

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Rowena Orejana

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