Vatican, 22 March 2021 -- Pope Francis marked 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines with a Holy Mass last Sunday, 14 March, in St Peter’s Basilica - Vatican. After an intense 9 years ‘Novena’ animated by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, with a special theme for each year (2011-2020) Pope Francis wanted to anticipate the official opening of this anniversary in the Philippines on 4 April 2021. The theme of the celebration is ‘Gifted to Give’ – an explicit invitation for the renewed missionary endeavor of the Filipino Catholics.
The inspiring homily of Pope Francis is also available on 17 slides (courtesy of FIS province). The successor of Saint Peter gave thanks in a few powerful words: "I would like to thank you for the joy you bring to the whole world, and especially to our Christian communities!... I think, as I mentioned, of the many beautiful experiences in families here in Rome, but also throughout the world - where your discreet and hardworking presence becomes a testimony of faith.,." And the Pontiff also encouraged the Filipino Catholics to put their whole heart into the pastoral program of the 500th anniversary: ... "a missionary commitment that involves everyone and reaches everyone. Never be discouraged as you walk this path. Never be afraid to proclaim the Gospel, to serve and to love!"
History tells us that it all began when the great 16th century Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who led a Spanish expedition including some priests, to the so-called ‘East Indies’, 1519 to 1522, reached what is today known as the Philippines on 16 March 1521. The first Mass was celebrated on Filipino soil on 31 March 1521, on the island of Limasawa, Leyte – today within the diocese of Maasin-Leyte, Bishop Precioso Cantillas, SDB.
The year-long 500th anniversary celebration will be marked by the opening of the ‘Holy Doors’ of pilgrim churches across the 115 million-strong nation. During the 14 March solemn Eucharist in the Vatican Basilica, Pope Francis highlighted the contagious and joyful Faith of the Filipinos, especially their oversea workers (some 10-15 million), spread across more than 220 countries around the world.
During the recent decade we have seen the 500th anniversary of the Catholic community in Timor Leste - East Timor (1511-2011) and in Myanmar - Burma (1514-2014). At the beginning of the 16th century the missionary movement of the Catholic Church reached many countries in the East Asia Region.
We give thanks to Pope Francis for his Mass at the Vatican, highlighting the launching of the Jubilee of this particular Faith Anniversary as a 'gift to be given' - the main theme of the Filipino Catholic Church for 2021. We give also thanks for the presence of the Filipino migrants and their chaplaincy around the entire EAO region and around the world (220+ countries) as a wonderful opportunity to share faith in Jesus Christ as his disciples - missionaries!
The Philippines is the largest Catholic population in Asia, with some 83% Catholics = 84 million believers (2015) and the third largest in the world after Brazil and Mexico. There are two SDB provinces (FIN-FIS) with headquarters in Manila and Cebu, with some 280 consecrated Salesians SDB and a large Salesian Family. Our presence in the Philippines started in 1951, making 2021 the 70th anniversary year after the first Salesian arrived from China province.