Filipino Catholics in Washington area celebrate 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines – Catholic Standard
Filipino Catholics in the Washington, DC area made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on September 18, 2021 to celebrate a 500-year journey of faith that continues.
The mass commemorating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines and the feast of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino martyr and saint, drew around 450 people, including women wearing indigenous silk dresses in pastel colors with delicate stitching and men wearing the traditional tagalog barong embroidered long sleeve shirts.
The morning began with a procession of around 100 Filipino Catholics who sang hymns and walked around the exterior of the basilica and through its main entrance, led by young adults carrying a cross and followed by children and d adults, some carrying banners representing different Catholic groups. Statues of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and Santo Niño de Cebú, an image of the Holy Child Jesus sacred to the Filipinos, were reverently carried in front of the sanctuary of the basilica and placed there.
In accordance with coronavirus safety guidelines, some participants wore special red masks with the anniversary year theme and logo, “Gifted to Give,” referring to how Filipino Catholics received the gift of faith. 500 years ago and are called to share this gift with the world.
Echoing this theme, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, Mario E. Dorsonville, the principal celebrant of the Mass, told Filipino Catholics in his homily: “You have the gift of going out and giving.” Bishop Dorsonville, chair of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, encouraged them to heed Pope Francis’ call by going out and being missionary disciples bringing Christ to the world, especially to those in the peripheries, such as the poor and migrants and refugees.
The mass at the basilica was part of the jubilee year commemorating the first mass in the Philippines, celebrated at Easter on March 31, 1521, by a Spanish priest accompanying the journey of Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer who died after engaging in a tribal battle there, but whose expedition which started with five ships and 260 men eventually completed the first round-the-world trip, with 18 surviving crew members arriving in Spain on a ship remaining laden with spices in September 1522 .
The Christian faith has flourished in the Philippines over the past five centuries. Today, the Philippines has the third largest Catholic population among any country in the world, with Catholics constituting 86 percent of its approximately 110 million people. Over 10 million Filipino migrants, mostly Catholics, live in 100 different countries around the world. An estimated 2.9 Filipino Catholics live in the United States.
This faith could be seen in dramatic fashion in 1995, when an estimated crowd of over 5 million attended Pope Saint John Paul II’s closing Mass during World Youth Day in the capital, Manila. of the Philippines, and in 2015, when it was believed that even more Filipinos attended Pope Francis’ closing Mass during his visit to that country.
In April 2021, as the bishops of the Philippines opened holy doors in cathedrals to help kick off the anniversary year, Pope Francis in a video message encouraged Filipino Catholics to “be thankful for the gift of faith … Reach out to others and bring them the hope and joy of the gospel.
Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and former Archbishop of Manila, also posted a video message for the jubilee, praising the “simple hidden witnesses of the faith” over the past 500 years who have contributed to “our character as Filipinos, to the improvement of Filipino culture and to the formation of the Filipino nation.”
Cardinal Tagle said the anniversary was a time for Filipino Catholics “to re-engage in the faith (and) act on it… It is also a time to share the gift of faith with our families, in our communities, in our parishes and even for the rest of the world. The gift we have received, we must not keep for ourselves.
At the National Mass of the Sanctuary, Mgr. Walter Rossi – the rector of the basilica – welcomed the Filipino Catholics, noting that over the years he had witnessed the joy and faith of this community. He noted that Saint Lorenzo Ruiz is depicted in the dramatic mosaic of the dome of the Trinity of the sanctuary, and that its crypt church level includes an oratory at Our Lady of Antipolo which marks its 25e anniversary next year and was donated by Filipino Catholics nationwide.
Bishop Dorsonville in his homily said that the importance of the basilica’s artwork depicting Saint Lorenzo Ruiz reflected the vital role of Filipino Catholics in the Church in the United States. He praised the testimony of this saint, who was martyred with missionaries in Japan in 1637 after refusing to renounce his faith, was canonized 300 years later and is revered as the patron saint of the Philippines, youth and servants choir, and for people working abroad.
The bishop said that this saint brought Christ to others, and he praised Filipino Catholics today for the faith that stays close to their hearts and families and inspires them to serve their parishes and be evangelists around the world. Praising the lay faithful as a blessing to the Church, the bishop also asked the Filipino priests and nuns present at mass to stand up, and he joined the congregation in applauding them.
Before Mass, people prayed dozens of rosaries in English, then in the Filipino languages of Tagalog, Bicolano, Ibanag, and Cebuano. Petitions to Mass included a reading in Ibanag “for the victims of the pandemic, the earthquake in Haiti, the wildfires in North America, Hurricane Ida, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, (and) in particular migrant refugees and orphans from all over the world ”.
The mass was hosted by the Filipino community in the Washington area, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Washington Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach and the Asian and Pacific Islands Affairs section of the Secretariat of the Cultural Diversity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.