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Worshippers waved palm fronds before Palm Sunday Mass outside a Catholic church in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2019. Catholics in the Philippines and worldwide are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines with events throughout 2021 until April 2022.
Worshippers waved palm fronds before Palm Sunday Mass outside a Catholic church in Manila, Philippines, April 14, 2019. Catholics in the Philippines and worldwide are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines with events throughout 2021 until April 2022.
Photo Credit: Eloisa Lopez | Reuters

Filipino community preserves faith traditions

500th year of Christianity in the Philippines has significance to local Catholics

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.

Father Chris Adinuba, center, received a lamp during the offertory as part of a Todos Los Santos Mass at St. Jude Church in Overland on Nov. 7. During the Todos Los Santos Mass, a lamp is placed with a Book of Remembrance that chronicles those from the group who have passed away since 1970.
Photo Credits: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
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.

Vibrant community

Parishioners who lost a loved one during the past year placed candles and flowers on the altar as part of the the procession during a Todos Los Santos Mass sponsored by the Philippine Liturgical Society of Greater St. Louis.
Photo Credits: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review
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

People lit candles following Mass in 2016 at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila, Philippines.
Photo Credits: Romeo Ranoco | Reuters
As 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.

Organizers 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.

Christianity 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


Filipino 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.

It 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.

Maria Alikhan

Deacon Del Leonardo (left) and Deacon Noli Rivera don vestments before a Todos Los Santos Mass sponsored by the Philippine Liturgical Society of Greater St. Louis at St. Jude Catholic Church in Overland, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021. Todos Los Santos is a traditional Filipino Mass celebrated as close as possible to All Saints Day dedicated to the memory of community members who passed away during the past year.
Photo Credits: Sid Hastings for the St. Louis Review

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