Five hundred years ago, Christianity came to the shores of the Philippine Islands when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, landed on the tiny island of Limasawa in the central Philippines in 1521.
The quincentennial anniversary is being celebrated for more than a year, leading up to April 2022, to mark the first celebration of Easter Mass in Cebu. The celebration was moved back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Filipinos in the archdiocese are celebrating the 500th year of Christianity in the Philippines with events throughout 2021-22, including an All Souls Day celebration Nov. 7 at St. Jude Church in Overland. The theme of the anniversary celebrations, “Gifted to Give,” emphasizes that Filipinos were gifted with Catholicism by which they came to know and love Jesus and Mary.
A big celebration in the Philippines is held around All Souls Day. “We come home to celebrate the dead,” said Nancy Abarca. “We are closer together as a family. Just like Thanksgiving in America, we go home.”
The Philippine Liturgical Society is focused on Filipino faith practices in St. Louis. They make sure the practices in the Philippines continue, such as a Mass Nov. 7 that included a remembrance of those who died in the past year.
“We make sure our culture is not lost, and that we continue to give it to our children,” said Abarca, a parishioner of St. Jude in Overland.
Deacon Del Leonardo of St. Joseph Parish in Clayton, who is chaplain to the Filipino community in St. Louis, said a reason he became a permanent deacon was to preserve the Filipino Catholic faith traditions.
Deacon Noli Rivera of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in St. Charles said “faithfulness and devotion is deeply in our hearts, and our faith in Christ is deeply bound. On this day, our thoughts are for relatives and friends who have passed on.”
The highlight of the local celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines will be on March 27 at noon at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The quincentennial anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines is underway and ends in April.
“A Treasured Presence: Filipino American Catholics,” published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, states that Filipinos are not only a diverse and vibrant part of the Church in the United States today, but an important part of its future. “At a time when secularization is increasingly impacting Church involvement, Filipino Americans remain faithfully Catholic and actively involved in parish life” as “key evangelizers of the Catholic faith,” the booklet reports.
Maria Alikhan of Ascension Parish in Chesterfield wrote in a summary of Filipino Catholicism in St. Louis that religion and daily prayers are an integral part of their life. Some follow or are members of special organizations, such as the Alliance of the Two Hearts, which offers a variety of events and has been led for many years by Ruby Casino and her husband, Noel Casino, who died last month.
Tonie Santos joined Couples for Christ, a Filipino Catholic movement intended for the renewal and strengthening of Christian family life, about 2004 when it came to St. Louis. He and his wife, Rose, who lead it, enjoy how the members do the teaching, using material that is provided. It involves about four years of formation about living the Christian life. “This is about me having a good relationship with my family, with my wife, with Jesus as the center of it all,” said Santos, a parishioner at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville.
He gave the example of a recent teaching about prayer: “It’s all about everything you have to do in your daily life so you’re still in accordance with your relationship with Jesus Christ.”
When the program was shared virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it gained a greater reach. The program is tailored for others as well: Kids for Chirst, Youth for Christ, Singles for Christ, Handmaids for Christ (for widows and married women), Servant for the Lord (for married men and widowers). Couples for Christ is now a worldwide ministry, becoming a major force for the renewal of the Christian family life and also of the Church.
Rene Foronda and his wife, Majessa, are the coordinators of Missionary Families of Christ, an evangelistic and missionary community committed to become families empowered by the Holy Spirit. An offshoot of Couples for Christ, it centers people on the teaching and impact of the New Evangelization, being a Christ-like Catholic family, Foronda said.
“We not just learn about our faith, but also live it,” he said. “The community is involved in other things such as working for the poor and also connect with the parishes to do pro-life activities. Sometimes we go on pilgrimages and we have fun times around family.”
Foronda, who immigrated to the United States with his family at age 15, said the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines is important here, where Filipinos brought their culture and faith. “It’s the continuity of the strong faith,” he said. “It’s a great contribution to humanity. It’s saying, ‘This is what the world needs.’”
A member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Louis, he tells his children that the best thing he has to pass on to them is his Catholic faith and the need to nurture that. “It continues on across the ocean, miles and miles away from the Philippines. I hope that as a Filipino community here we can share that faith and that culture, what we have in common with other Catholic cultures,” Foronda said.
500 years of Christianity in the Philippines
the pandemic roared on in the Philippines and the world, Church
organizers continued with commemorations marking the 500th year of
Christianity in the Southeast Asian country. It started in November 2019
with 500 Holy Hours leading up to March 31. This is the anniversary of
the first Easter Mass celebrated in the Philippines.
said the Philippine bishops designated hundreds of “jubilee churches”
across the country to hold special commemorations on the mission theme,
culminating in a pushed-back April 2022 celebration.
came to the shores of the Philippine Islands in 1521 when the
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in an attempt to circumnavigate
the globe from Spain to India, landed on tiny island of Limasawain the
central Philippines and started to convert the natives to Christianity.
More than 2,200 converted, but those on nearby Mactan island resisted
and killed Magellan.
Simone Orendain, Catholic News Service
Catholics brought with them several religious practices that are unique
to their culture that embody their fun-loving nature, Maria Alikhan
wrote in a summary of Filipino Catholics in St. Louis. Some highlights:
• The foremost Filipino Catholic group is the Philippine Liturgical Society of St. Louis.
Its services encompass most of the religious activities of the
community that are practices from the Philippines, such as the Annual
Simbang Gabi, Todos Los Santos, Lenten Recollection, and the monthly
Filipino Mass. The celebration of the feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the
first Filipino saint, is now part of the list of activities, as well as
the Feast of La Naval de Manila marking the naval victory of the Spanish
and Filipino Catholic forces against the invading Dutch fleet.
• The Simbang Gabi
is an annual nine-day novena dedicated to the Virgin Mary in her
pregnancy. The novena starts on Dec. 15 and ends Dec. 23. A Mass is
celebrated every night for nine days, officiated by different volunteer
priests from the greater St. Louis area. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski
will celebrate the concluding Mass. All the Masses will be celebrated at
7 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Valley Park and will be livestreamed.
• A novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and a Mass
is celebrated every first Wednesday of the month at Our Lady of the
Snows Shrine in Belleville, Illinois. On Sept. 8, the birthday of Mary,
the Mother of Jesus, is observed.
• The “Sinulog” festival
held in January commemorates the beginning of Christianization of the
Philippine Islands. It is a festival honoring the Infant Jesus, “Santo
Nino de Cebu.” The Santo Nino icon was gifted to Queen Juana by
Ferdinand Magellan, upon her baptism into the Catholic religion. There
are two Sinulog celebrations in the Greater St. Louis area, one in north
St. Louis County and one in St. Charles County. Both celebrations are
similar. A Mass is always celebrated, then a reenactment of the gifting
of the Santo Nino Icon and Queen Juana dancing with joy, followed by the
whole congregation dancing the two-step, back and forth steps with each
dancer carrying a Santo Nino statue. No Filipino event is held without a
lavish spread of Filipino delicacies, although this practice was
reduced to the very minimum during the pandemic.
• The biggest
event yet to be celebrated is the quincentennial anniversary of the
Christianization of the Philippines, which ends in April 2022. The
Liturgical Society celebration includes not only the beginning (first
mass in Cebu) but spans the whole 500 years of evangelization by the
different religious orders sent by Spain; such as the Augustinians, the
Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Recollects. What the
conquistadors could not accomplish with armies was accomplished without
bloodshed by the friars in conquering the islands. The pageantry
includes the martyrdom of two Filipino saints; San Lorenzo Ruiz in 1637
and San Pedro Calungsod in 1672.
The Virgin Mary is deeply
venerated by the Filipinos owing to the many miraculous favors that
“Mama Mary” has granted to Her many devotees. Two of the more famous
miraculous icons of the Virgin Mary are included in the pageant. Lastly,
a sampling of various fiestas and the merrymaking will be performed,
some of which may someday be brought here. The event will be held in the
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis at noon on March 27, 2022.
Catholicism in the Philippines
The celebration of the
Christianization of the Philippines starts with the arrival of Magellan
to current day Filipino Catholic practices.
The goal of the Spanish Conquistadores was twofold:
• Colonization of the islands by Spain.
• Evangelization of the people of the islands.
was the second goal that made it easy to achieve the first, thus it was
necessary to send as many religious orders and spread in the many
sections of the country, each with a different dialects and customs. The
celebration of the jubilee will consist of a Mass, followed by a
pageant of the arrivals of the different orders, a short narrative of
the two Filipino saints and examples of miraculous events attributed to
our venerated Mother Mary.
Current practices will be included, the Filipinos’ contribution and gift to the world.
The secular arm of the colonizers, with the help of the religious, conquered the whole archipelago and claimed it for Spain.