Today, March 14, 2021 we witness the historical Papal Mass for the 500 Years of Christianity celebration.
This was organized by Fr. Ricky Gente, Chaplain of the Sentro Pilipino / Santa Pudenziana Basilica in Rome, with the great help of their Parish Pastoral Council.
Of course it is all possible because of the warmth of Pope Francis himself.
In our Spotlight on Rome interview with Fr. Ricky, he shared that when he mentioned the 500 Years of Christianity mass to Pope Francis at the Simbang Gabi that Pope Francis presided over in 2019 - another first! - the Holy Father readily said yes!
From Circumnavigation to Evangelization
There has certainly been a Divine Hand in the Filipinos' Christian journey.
500 years ago Ferdinand Magellan set out to circumnavigate the world yet ultimately his mission transformed from circumnavigation to evangelization.
Magellan in fact did not make it back to Spain (his companion Juan Sebastian Elcano completed the expedition and circumnavigation). He was killed in Mactan by Datu Lapu Lapu, which is the angle the Philippine government is taking for the National Quintentennial celebration.
The image of the Sto Nino - the very gift that Magellan gave to Hara Humamay, spouse of Rajah Humabon, as she was baptized and given the baptismal name of Juana 500 years ago - will today be offered to Pope Francis at the Altar of St Peter, carried during the procession in the mass for the celebration of 500 Years of Christianity.
And while 500 years ago, Rajah Humabon of Cebu was baptized, today one of our own - a humble native of Imus, Cavite, Luis Antonio Tagle - will be concelebrating Holy Mass with the Pope himself, and on this Laetare Sunday join the Pope in inviting the people to retrace one of the fundamental dynamics of our baptismal re-birth.
It has been a complete circumnavigation of faith!
St. Paul, who wrote in his letter to the Romans in around 56 AD that he would go on a missionary journey to Spain, would be proud.
Likewise Pope Leo X, who was Pope during the time of Magellan's expedition and who sent Fr Pedro Valderrama and chronicler Antonio Pigafetta to join the expedition of Magellan. I bet he never have imagined that the little people found on what they initially called the Island of Saint Lazarus - because the Philippines was "discovered" on a feast of St Lazarus, March 16, 1521 - would one day be the new evangelizers of the world, celebrating at the Vatican!
The beauty and symmetry of it all only proves that this is truly the work of the Lord.
Missio Ad Gentes: Ambassadors of Faith
Beyond having one of our own share the stage with the Pope himself, is the fact the spirit of Christ is so deeply embedded in Filipinos that anywhere in the world that Filipino Catholics go, you would have the new missionaries - ambassadors of faith.
Many Filipinos who migrate abroad, whether as Overseas Foreign Workers or as professionals, carry with them this "gift" of faith. Now that it is our generation's turn to be the new "explorers", in search not of new territories but of new lives, of new hopes, the Filipinos who were evangelized 500 Years ago are now among the evangelizers in different parts of the world, gifting those they encounter in foreign lands with the Sto. Niño, the Rosary, or with their prayers.
Gifted to Give
As Christ accompanied Magellan and crew 500 Years ago, Christ continues to accompany every touched Filipino today. In fact, in his Divine Wisdom, He has built a home that anyone anywhere in the world can run to: the Church.
Filipinos the world over have appreciated this gift, running to the Church to find familiarity, comfort and love. And in return, it is also in and through the Church that Filipinos have been able to share our personal gifts whether as part of the Parish Pastoral Council, as members of the choirs, as servers in Church, as prayerful participants in the Holy Mass - as our Filipinos in Rome are doing for the Papal Mass today. It is in and through the Church that we continue to come alive, wherever in the world we may be.
And as we carry Christ's love and the spirit of the Church in our hearts, Filipinos the world over - whether as domestic helpers, seamen, caregivers, nurses, doctors, entertainers, professionals, entrepreneurs - are able to share Christ's love with the world. Living with a Filipino brand of compassion, empathy and care that would not be possible if not for our Gift of faith.
As the chosen theme of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for the 500 Years celebration goes, as we were gifted with faith, we now give this gift to the world. Truly, we are "Gifted to Give"!