The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic moved back the commemoration of 500 years of Christianity by a year. Instead of a culmination, what was marked last Easter Sunday was the start of year-long activities. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma pointed out that there are two important milestones: The first mass in Limasawa, Leyte on March 16, 1521 and the first baptism in Cebu on April 14, 1521. Among the first to be baptized were Rajah Humabon and his wife Hara Humamay who were gifted by Magellan with an image of the Sto. Niño that has become one of the most popular icons of Filipino Christianity.
The other narrative focuses on the battle of Mactan in which the Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães (also known as Fernando de Magallanes or Ferdinand Magellan) was killed by Datu Lapu Lapu. Magellan died at age 41 with the distinction of having led the first circumnavigation of the world.
In Pasyon at Rebolusyon (1986), Reynaldo Ileto narrates how the pasyon (spiritual readings during Holy Week) “made available a language for venting ill feelings against friars, principales and agents of the state” that fired up popular uprisings such as those led by the Cofradia in 1940, the Katipunan during the revolution against Spain and rebellious movements led by Macario Sakay and Felipe Salvador in the early 1900s.
In issuing Executive Order 103 last year, President Duterte emphasized: “The (celebration) espouses a Filipino-centric point of view of the first circumnavigation of the world, by underscoring the magnanimity, compassion, and humanity of our ancestors in helping the impoverished crew of the expedition that traversed the Pacific ocean, and the courage of the warrior in Mactan, which continue to serve as inspiration to our heroes and martyrs up to this day.”
Moreover, he said the commemoration “aims to promote local and national tourism, reignite the nationalism of every Filipino, inculcate values for the common good, strengthen social cohesiveness of the community, intensify social awareness, and foster the Filipino creativity and innovation for the country’s socio-economic growth.”
The quincentennial theme, “Gifted to Give” underlines that the gift of faith is a call to generosity and compassion, especially at a time of severe economic hardship. Caritas Manila has responded directly by distributing food and hot meals as well as Ligtas COVID-19 health kits and food bags filled with five kilos of rice, munggo seeds, kalabasa noodles and canned goods.
Pope Francis urged Filipino missionaries and migrants in Rome and all over the world to maintain their blessed “infectiousness,” citing that their “discreet and hardworking presence” has become a “testimony of faith” and that their exemplary lives following “the footsteps of Mary and Joseph” enable them “to bring the joy of faith through humble, hidden, courageous and persevering service.”
Meantime, the people of Limasawa island in Leyte are building a tower of light to symbolize the bonfire that guided Magellan’s ships upon reaching the Philippine islands, a beacon of light and faith to the world.