Pope Francis urged Filipinos to renew their commitment to Christ as missionary disciples during Mass in Rome on Sunday, March 14, to mark the quincentennial of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.
The pontiff said the Filipino people’s “discreet and hardworking presence” around the world “became a testimony of faith.”
Pope Francis led the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in St. Peter’s Basilica with about a hundred Filipinos to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the country in 1521.
Once again, the pontiff lauded Filipinos for being “smugglers of faith.”
Filipino Catholics who live in Rome attended the Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was also live-streamed for people to watch around the world.
Italy has one of the largest populations of Filipino migrant workers in western Europe with over 165,000 overseas Filipinos living in the country as of 2014.
Mass began with a procession of eight representatives of the Filipino community dancing and carrying the cross of Magellan and the Holy Child of Cebu.
“I have often said that here in Rome Filipino women are ‘smugglers’ of faith,” said Pope Francis, adding that wherever Filipino women go to work, “they sow the faith.”
“It is part of your genes, a blessed ‘infectiousness’ that I urge you to preserve,” he said as he urged them to keep bringing the faith to others.
The pontiff noted that even after 500 since the Christian message arrived in the Philippines, the “joy of the Gospel … is evident in your people.”
“We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers. In the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands,” he told the Filipino faithful who attended the Mass.
The pope called on Filipinos “to persevere in the work of evangelization – not proselytism, which is something else.”
“The Christian proclamation that you have received needs constantly to be brought to others,” he said, adding that God asks the Church “to care for those who are hurting and living on the fringes of life.”
“Never be discouraged as you walk this path,” said the pope. “Never be afraid to proclaim the Gospel, to serve and to love.”
The Mass was attended by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the former archbishop of Manila.
Before the final blessing, Cardinal Tagle addressed a greeting to Pope Francis.
“We bring you the filial love of Filipinos in the 7,641 islands of our country. There are more than ten million Filipino migrants living in almost one hundred countries in the world. They are united with us this morning,” said the cardinal who teared up as he spoke to the pope and the people.
In an earlier message, Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said “the Church in the Philippines, in a very silent way, became a witness to evangelical charity.”
The prelate cited the challenges faced by Filipinos in recent years, including the series of natural disasters, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Archbishop Valles, however, said that the Christian faith that arrived in the Philippines 500 years ago, is still “very much alive today in the joyful witness to evangelical charity by Catholics.”
“Faith is a gift from God. And so, we are joyful in this special jubilee year,” said Archbishop Valles, adding that faith helped Filipinos “to navigate through the journey of life.”
The prelate said life in the Philippines is difficult, but faith helped Filipinos to be strong, assured that the Lord is with them.
“That is why our theme for the celebration is ‘Gifted to Give,’” he said, adding that with the awareness that one is gifted “comes the desire to share this faith.”
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who led a Spanish expedition, reached what is today known as the Philippines on March 16, 1521.
The first Catholic Mass and first baptism took place in the Philippines days later.
Today, the Philippines has the third largest number of Catholics in the world. An estimated 86 percent of the 108 million population of the Philippines is Catholic.
Philippine Catholic Church leaders will formally inaugurate on Easter Sunday, April 4, the year-long celebration of the fifth centenary with the opening of the “Holy Doors” of pilgrim churches across the country.