On Easter Sunday, the Filipino communities in the Archdiocese of Wellington and in the Auckland diocese commemorated the 500th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in the Philippines, thanking God for the wonderful gift of faith.
In a video message played at the Wellington gathering on April 4, Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples prefect Cardinal Luis Tagle called on Filipino Catholics all over the world to recommit themselves to the faith.
“This is a time also to recommit ourselves to the gift of faith, to receive Jesus again, to receive his word, his presence, his person, to be a child like him, Santo Niño, to bear the cross of others, Hesus Nazareno,” he said. “We need to recommit ourselves to the faith, to act on it and to be sorry for our failures in living out the faith in a consistent manner.”
He reminded them that the gift of faith is a gift to be shared.
This message was echoed by Wellington Cardinal John Dew in his homily. The cardinal concelebrated the Mass with Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, Filipino community chaplain Fr Marlon Tebelin, Frs Rico de la Torre, Cirilo Barlis, David Orange and John van der Kaa, AA.
“Today we give thanks that you, the Filipino community, had given so much to the local church of Wellington. I know that you will continue to give because that’s part of your nature,” Cardinal Dew said.
“I also encourage you to continue to give thanks to God for the gift of faith, and to look for ways to share it with others, and to know, to know deep in your hearts, that everything we have is gift and God is the giver behind the gift.”
Some 700 people participated in the Mass, celebrated at Bishop Viard College in Porirua. It was preceded by a cultural presentation depicting the story of how the Spaniards brought the faith into the Philippines, and how it grew among the people.
Wellington Filipino chaplaincy chair Ria de Leon said that, while Christianity came with colonisation, it did not end there.
“The Spaniards colonised the Philippines for 300 years, but we still have deep faith 200 years later. It is the gift of faith we are thankful for,” she said.
In Auckland, Auxiliary Bishop Michael Gielen thanked the Filipino Catholics for the “gifts” they have brought to the Church and the diocese.
Some 6000 people gathered at the Eventfinda Stadium on the North Shore for the Mass, which Bishop Gielen concelebrated with Filipino community chaplain Fr Mario Dorado, OFM Cap, MissioNZ national director Fr Bernard Espiritu, SVD, Frs Lio Rotor, Carlos Guleng and Carlo Cruz.
The bishop said the first gift, which Pope Francis also recognised, was “your passion for mission”.
“Do you know what Pope Francis calls you? ‘God smugglers’, ‘Jesus smugglers’,” Bishop Gielen said, eliciting delighted laughter among the Mass-goers. “The Filipino ladies smuggle Jesus everywhere, especially in the places in the world where people suffer most.”
He said they give care and love, particularly in hospitals and rest homes.
Bishop Gielen said the Filipinos are also known for being joyful and for their hospitality, and he urged them to keep these traits.
He said he is grateful for their tradition of seeking blessing from the priest by taking the priest’s hand and touching it to their foreheads. This is a tradition called “mano”.
He teasingly called this tradition both “a blessing and a curse”.
“My hand is permanently locked this way,” he said showing his palm half-bent facing downward.
In a more serious tone, he said, “I want to thank you for that, for reminding us of our dignity. I know it’s (mano) for the elders and for the people you respect. We need that.”
During the Mass, gifts representing the different regions in the Philippines, such as an Igorot woven cloth, Christmas lantern or parol, and milkfish were also offered.
Different devotional groups, including Senyor Sto Niño, Black Nazarene, Virgin of Penafrancia, Our Lady of Manaoag and La Naval de Manila came together to organise the celebration.
Papal knight and chair of the Filipino Chaplaincy Oscar Batucan thanked everyone who helped in organising and gave their time and talents freely.