Mass to mark 500 years of Filipino Christianity

A Filipino fiesta can go on for a long time and then work overtime. But given that Filipinos have been Christians for 500 years, it’s no surprise that the 50th anniversary celebrations in Toronto lasted longer than the original plan.

Cardinal Thomas Collins will preside over the closing Mass for the year of the celebrations on December 1 at 3 p.m., both in person at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and streamed on the official Quinquennium website at

“In fact, we intended to end the celebration in July,” said Rosario Pascua, a member of the organizing committee for St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham. “But when we saw buy-in to some of the virtual chats, we thought maybe there was an appetite for those virtual chats that we were hosting.”

The planning committee then hoped to wrap things up in November, but planning for the church and celebrants proved difficult.

Thanks to COVID, most of the year of celebration was confined to cyberspace, starting with the Filipino tradition Simbang Gabi, until last Christmas. Simbang Gabi is a sort of supercharged novena – nine dawn processions to church praying the rosary, culminating each morning with a mass. The ninth procession and mass of the cycle takes place on Christmas Eve.

In and out of the lockdown throughout the year, Philippine religious traditions found an outlet for Youtube, Facebook and the ph500toronto website. At Easter there was a virtual Pabása ng Pasyón, or reading from the Passion.

“Typically, across all three social media platforms, we were getting 2,000 views for each of the virtual chats,” Pascua said.

The first mass in the Philippines was celebrated on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521 on Limasawa Island. During this mass, Rajah Humabon and Hara Amihan were baptized and given the baptismal names Carlos and Juana.

Under Spanish colonial rule, the Philippines became and remains today the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia. The population of the Philippines is 80.6 percent Roman Catholics.

While Filipino religious traditions can be distinctive, Filipinos always feel at home in a Catholic church no matter where they go, said Pascua.

“We’re pretty adaptable,” Pascua said. “You have seen many Filipinos all over the world, not just in Toronto, where they are able to adapt to the culture and even to our Catholic Church. We have seen many Filipinos get involved and mobilize within parishes, and keep the faith strong even though they are in another country.

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