Vatican mass will celebrate 500 years of Christianity in  PH

Published March 7, 2021, 12:06 AM

by Manila Bulletin

It was in 1521 that  Portuguese explorer  Ferdinand Magellan  landed in the Philippines  at the head  of  a Spanish  expedition  to reach the East by sailing West. He planted a cross and led in the  celebration  of  the first mass in the Philippines  on Easter  Sunday in what church officials believe was Limasawa Island in southern Leyte.

That was 500 years ago,  the  start of 500 years in which Christianity flourished in the Philippines, today recognized as the only Christian nation in Asia. Because of the pandemic, many  commemorative events  were cancelled  last year. Finally, this year,  on  Easter Sunday, April  4, 2021, the Philippines will celebrate the first mass and the first baptism in the Philippines, to be led by  the Archdiocese of Cebu.

But even before  the Cebu celebration, Pope Francis will lead the Filipino community in Rome  in a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican at 10 a.m. next Sunday, March 14. Former Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle,  now  prefect of the Vatican  Congregation  for the Evangelization of Peoples,  will  be  present along with Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, the Pope’s vicar of Rome.

As  in many churches around the world because of the pandemic, the number  of people allowed inside the basilica for the mass will be limited. But it will be  live-streamed worldwide,   Fr. Ricky Gente of the Filipino chaplaincy in Rome said. Shortly after the mass, the Pope  will  lead the traditional  prayer at noon at the St. Peter’s Square.

The  coming  of Magellan  in 1521 is seen by the world  as a milestone in  the history of globalization.  It led to exchanges of cultures, ideas, and technology. Unlike the countries of  South America, however,  the people of our islands kept their languages and their culture.  Our history books celebrate the fact that  Filipinos  resisted  that first attempt at colonial rule by Magellan in 1521. It took another 44 years before the second Spanish voyage led by Miguel Lopez  de Legaspi  led to the establishment  of Spanish settlements in the islands.

Western narratives in the last 500 years  have  referred to the “discovery” of the Philippines in 1521. But it is important to point out that the islands were already home at that time to established societies led by datus, with goldsmiths and other skilled artisans, and people who actively traded with nearby nations.

For  the commemoration of the events of 1521, the Philippine government, through the Philippine  National Quincentennial  Committee, has focused on the natives’ generosity and  hospitality toward the, newcomers from the West, rather than on  Magellan’s arrival as  the start of colonialism  as  old  history books  put it.

As for the Church, its focus  is  on 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.  It started with the planting of a cross by Magellan and the celebration of the first mass in Limasawa.  And Pope Francis himself will lead in a mass in the Vatican on Sunday, March 14, in celebration of that great day in the story of the Filipino people.