MANILA (UPDATE) - Pope Francis on Sunday led a Mass celebrating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the pope's vicar for Rome, were among the limited number of people allowed to attend the Mass in person at the basilica due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In his homily, Pope Francis said that with the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines 500 years ago, Filipinos received the joy of the gospel.
"Dear brothers and sisters, 500 years have passed since the Christian message first arrived in the Philippines. You received the joy of the gospel, the good news that God so loved us that He gave His Son for us. And this joy is evident in your people. We see it in your eyes, in your songs and in your prayers," he said.
"For God's holy people in the Philippines, I also want to urge you to persevere in the work of evangelization... The Christian proclamation that you have received is something that needs to be constantly shared to others," Pope Francis added.
Fr. Greg Gaston, rector of the Pontificio Collegio Filipino, earlier told ABS-CBN News that the Mass is Pope Francis' "gesture of his closeness to us Filipinos," having "shown his deep appreciation for our life of faith" when he visited the Philippines in 2015 and when he celebrated the Simbang Gabi Mass at St. Peter's in 2019.
The Pope is expected to lead the traditional recitation of the Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square following the mass.
The predominantly Catholic nation will launch the yearlong commemoration of the arrival of Christianity in the country on April 4, Easter Sunday.
“Binigyan tayo ng biyaya ng Panginoon, nagkaroon tayo ng pananampalataya. But we are also called, we are also responsible to share this faith with others. Kaya nga if we received that faith 500 years ago, dapat din natin ipamigay din ito, ipamahagi din sa iba,” Msgr. Bernard Pantin, Secretary General of the CBCP, had said.
(We were blessed by the Lord with this faith. But we are also called, we are also responsible to share this faith with others. That's why, if we received that faith 500 years ago, we should also pass it on and share it with others.)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, meanwhile, is leading the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, with the theme, "Gifted to Give."
Its logo features the cross, an image of the first baptism, fish to symbolize Christ, beads of the Holy Rosary, the hovering color of blue for the Holy Spirit, and bold, accented brown lines to symbolize the hand of God.
On March 31, the first Easter Sunday mass in Limasawa town in the Diocese of Maasin in Southern, Leyte, will be commemorated with the Papal Nuncio as guest of honor.
The first baptism in Cebu will be commemorated on April 14, and the victory in Mactan on April 27.
Historian and renowned Magellan scholar Danilo Gerona underscored the importance of these events in shaping the course of history.
“This is a big event for the Philippines, big event because it is the turning point of Philippine history with the coming of Spain, whether Spain gave us trouble, it gave us a lot of pain, as some people complained. But then, we cannot deny that it gave a certain culture which paved the way to what we are today, a religion,” Gerona told ABS-CBN.
The government-led celebrations adopted the theme “Victory and Humanity” with the logo of the National Quincentennial Committee featuring the cross to symbolize Christianity, waves for the circumnavigation, and an image of Lapu-Lapu.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to lead the unveiling of a historical marker in Guiuan town, the first of more than 30, that signifies places linked to the Magellan-Elcano expedition, according to the National Historical Commission.
Duterte in 2019 rebuked the need to celebrate the 500th year since the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the Philippines, who brought Christianity to the country, saying the foreign landing in Cebu heralded centuries of abuse against Filipinos.
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan had claimed the islands, named after King Philip II, for Spain in 1521 on a voyage to circumnavigate the globe.
Spanish rulers and friars entrenched Catholicism, over what had been mainly polytheist, animist and Muslim populations during nearly 400 years of colonial rule that ended when Filipinos declared their independence in 1898.
--With reports from Erik Tenedero and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; and Agence France-Presse
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