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Filipinos urged to be ‘authentic missionary disciples’ during quincentennial of first Easter Mass

The Church in the Philippines is invited anew to ‘go forth’ 500 years after the first celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the archipelago

Filipino Catholic were urged to be “authentic missionary disciples” as the country marked the 500th anniversary of the celebration of the first Easter Mass on March 31.

A heavy downpour and strict health restrictions did not dampen the celebration attended by about a thousand people on Limasawa Island on Wednesday morning.

“The love of Christ made present in every celebration of the Holy Mass, impels us to proclaim the Gospel we have received to all the world,” said Archbishop Charles John Brown, papal nuncio to the Philippines.

“Five hundred years after the first Mass was offered in the archipelago, the Church in the Philippines is invited anew to ‘go forth,’” said the archbishop in a message read by Bishop Precioso Cantillas of Maasin.

He said that it is in the “sharing of the gift of faith with others that we can best express our thanksgiving to God.”

The archbishop was not able to attend the celebration due to restrictions brought about by the rising number of new coronavirus cases in the country in the past weeks.

A boat carrying the image of the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño de Cebu, with several bishops from the Visayas was not able to land on the island due to poor visibility.

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In his homily, Bishop Cantillas expressed his gratitude for the “first great gift of God, the Eucharist.”

“We try to lead others into being a Eucharistic people,” he said, adding that everyone is part of the Church and “we should be an active member in making the Eucharist shine more.”

Residents of Limasawa in the central Philippines re-enact the arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan on the island on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Rhoel Amazona)

He said the Church that Jesus established with his disciples should be aggressive in proclaiming God’s loving and saving presence.

“The Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus, the concrete act of his love and mercy for us and we need always to remember this,” said the prelate.

He added, however, that “in the face of this great love and mercy we see that Jesus even in his time … experienced rejection, abandonment, unbelief and even betrayal.”

“We see this same betrayals by many people including ourselves of the Eucharistic Lord in many forms and expressions,” said Bishop Cantillas.

“When going to Mass is not considered as essential to man by those making the decisions for the public health of society which is contrary to the clear teachings of Jesus and his Church,” he said.

The government has suspended religious activities in the national capital and neighboring provinces during the Holy Week due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Bishop Cantillas also said that the Church in the Philippines, including priests and bishops “may have failed to make the Eucharist the most important, the most essential, the center of our life as a Church and individual disciples of Christ.”

He called on everyone to “deepen and intensify their faith and love for Jesus” in the Eucharist.

Young Catholics join a “floater lighting” on the beach of Limasawa Island on March 30, 2019, as part of the celebration of the arrival of Christianity in the country on March 31, 1521. (File photo by Roel Amazona)

Historical records show that the first documented Catholic Mass in the Philippines was held on March 31, 1521, Easter Sunday. It was celebrated by Father Pedro de Valderrama on the shore of what was referred to in the journals of Antonio Pigafetta as “Mazaua.”

Today, the site is widely believed by many historians and the government to be the island of Limasawa, off the tip of Southern Leyte province.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has earlier urged the faithful to participate in the celebration of the first Mass in the country through their own celebrations.

In a pastoral letter released, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops’ conference, encouraged Catholics to also join events on April 4, Easter Sunday.

“Let it also be the occasion for the opening of a jubilee door in every cathedral in the whole country, as well as in select churches during the rest of Easter,” said the prelate.

Archbishop Valles expressed hope that the year 2021 will be a year of looking back in history for the faithful to better understand who they are in the present “as communities of disciples.”

He said the celebrations this year should be an “opportunity also to look forward in the next 500 years with the same missionary zeal that made it possible for us to receive the Christian faith.” – with a report from Ronald Reyes

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