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Homily in Celebration of the Opening of 500th Anniversary of the Christianity in the Philippines

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Apostolic Administrator of Manila

We belong to a local church with deep historical roots. Today we are celebrating the 442nd anniversary of our being elevated to a diocese, the first in the country, having under its jurisdiction the entire country. This was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII. That was in 1579. Think about it, 1579! 442 years ago! 16 years later, in 1595 Pope Clement VIII raised Manila to an archdiocese, its suffragan dioceses being Nueva Segovia in the Ilocandia, Nueva Caceres in Bicol, and Cebu in the Visayas. This tells us that all the dioceses in our country came from Manila. The expansion of the Church in the Philippines started from Manila. This is a source of pride for us, but also a big challenge. So it is very appropriate that here in the archdiocese of Manila we open our 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity in the Philippines on this day. However, we will also join in the national opening activities on Easter Sunday on April 4 with the opening of the Holy Doors all over the country.

RCAM's logo in celebration of the 500th Year of Christianity in the Philippines.

The theme of this year is MISSIO AD GENTES. May this celebration spur us on to continue this expanding mission of Manila to which we are all heirs to. The word expansion has a negative connotation. It smacks of colonialism; it brings in the idea of domination – yes imperial Manila! It gives the taste of accumulation of wealth, of prestige, and even of primacy. But we are speaking not of expansion itself but of expansion of the mission. St. Paul tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Let all hear that Jesus is Lord. Let our voice go forth to all the earth and our words to the ends of the world. This is our ever pressing mandate from the Lord himself.

For anything with deep roots in history, there is the danger of becoming a monument. In fact, we glory in our artifacts, in our old churches, in our antique images. We may have these, but let us not, as church, be just antiques, museums and artifacts whose main concern is preservation and conservation. This is why Pope Francis calls us to get out of the maintenance mode. Instead we should be in the missionary mode. He clearly wrote, “I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. ‘Mere administration’ can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’” (EG 25)

Being in a state of mission is not optional. It is the necessary condition if we want to be renewed as a living church, and not just be a museum that is visited once in awhile but could not change lives. Pope Francis took the words of St. John Paul II which he spoke to the bishops of Oceania : “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion” (EG 27)

In this vein Pope Francis continues: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” (EG 20)

To leave the comfort zone is difficult. We would rather stay in our cozy and familiar situations, but COVID-19 has pushed us out of our comfort zones, whether we liked it or not. We have to adapt to the new realities if we are to survive. Let us not just wait till things get back to “normal.” The normal will not be where we were in 2019 and before. It will be something new! The virus has also pushed us to the peripheries. Many of us went to the poor to distribute the Gift Certificates and ayudas, and we have realized that there are many pockets of poverty in our areas that we have not yet reached. A sense of solidarity among parishes have also been formed. We have parishes helping fellow parishes. This experience has bonded us more together as an archdiocese, not just as individual parishes.

Now that we have the initial push to get out of our comfort zones and to reach out to the peripheries, let us continue on this missionary mode. Pope Francis again tells us: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” (EG 33) Yes, let us be bold in striking out new grounds. There will be expenses. We will make mistakes. There will be criticisms but move on. When St. John Bosco was being criticized by his fellow priests in Piedmont Italy for going out to collect street boys from the streets and even playing with them – a thing that was unheard of during his time, a priest running races with children in the streets, he just shrugged his shoulders and said: “Let the birds chirp, let us go on doing our mission.” Yes, let the birds chirp.

As I have mentioned before, one mission field, a very vast mission field, in fact a world-wide space that we have to reach, is the digital continent. The digital way of connecting to people and evangelizing will be with us to stay, even with the coming of the vaccine. Let us invest, let us improve, let us learn to bring God’s word in the world of the internet. Let us recruit people, and many of them the young, for this mission. Let us not say, that I am too old for this. The internet is not only for techies and for the young. It is also for us seniors. And let us not be afraid of this technology. It has great potentials for the good.

Missio ad gentes for many of us is not going to Papua New Guinea or to China. Missio ad gentes is going to the peripheries. These peripheries are not just out there. Many times they are around us, yet they are people whom we do not yet reach. They can even be those selling flowers outside our churches, those who sleep in the streets, those people for whom the church is just a building among so many buildings in the neighborhood. How can we reach them? How can we make the church relevant to them? We have done a bit of this by the ayudas that we give, and this should continue as more people will be in need.

In our online CBCP plenary meeting 10 days ago we have approved a pastoral statement on stewardship which has been forwarded to you a week ago. There we have reiterated PCP II’s decree to remove the arancel. We have started this process in the archdiocese even before the pandemic. Now we have more reason to pursue it, so that we can become more comfortable with the words of Jesus that we have heard in our gospel today: “What you have received without pay, give without pay.” Let us not give the reason that we are in the pandemic and we have little collection. It is not only we who are in the pandemic. Also the poor are in the pandemic, and they suffer all the more. In the 500th anniversary of Christianity we give this gift to the people – that they can avail of the services of the Church for free. Let us not doubt the generosity of the people. This pandemic has demonstrated to us that even in times of hardship such as this one, people give to the church, if they see that the church has programs for the people. Ang pagtanggal ng arancel ay hindi pakiusap. Itinalaga na ito ng simbahan sa buong bansa.

The recent instruction from the congregation of the clergy (July 20, 2020) The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church states: “The Lord taught his disciples to have a generous spirit of service, to be a reciprocal gift for the other (cf. Jn 13:14-15), and to have a special care for the poor. From this derives the need not to “commercialize” the sacramental life, and not to give the impression that the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, along with other ministerial activities, are subject to tariffs.” (40)

Another aspect of evangelization that we have to stress to go out of the maintenance mode is how we present the word of God. People need the word of God – let us present to them the Word of God, and not just our ideas or our thoughts about it. This means that we need to be more immersed in God’s word and be captivated by it so that we can proclaim it to others. I always say that it is very presumptuous to expect that people will find the Good News, if we ourselves do not find it as Good News. My fellow priests, we always preach, we always speak to the people. Do we speak because we have to speak, or because we have something to say, and something meaningful to say?

God’s Word, however, is not only for individuals. There is a social dimension in God’s word. The Bible does transform society. Let us bring out the social implications of God’s word. There are so many issues in society now that need to be enlightened by God’s word, which is a message of justice, of truth, of peace and of love. When St. John Pau II said “Do not be afraid” he did not only mean do not be afraid to follow the Word but also do not be afraid to preach the Word. Speak the Word in season and out of season, and with care to instruct. Pag sinabi nila na namumulitika ka na kasi binabanggit natin ang social implication of the Good News – and they always say that when they do not want to hear our message – let the birds chirp and move on with the mission.

We open today the Year of the Mission. Let each of our community enter into the missionary mode. We go out of our comfort zone to reach out to the peripheries. The internet is a means to reach out to countless people in the digital continent. A gift that we offer to our people this year is to offer the services of the Church for free. We take out the arancel as our bishops are telling us. Our mission is to shout out the good news – this is what evangelization means – to all. Our product line – the Good News of salvation – is always needed and always relevant. Let us present it to the people. So we have to be enthused with the message so that we can attract people to it. The message of justice, peace, truth and love is needed not only by our souls, but also by society at large. So we preach out the social implications of the Good News. From the local church of Manila the Christian message has reached all over the country. May this renewed missionary zeal from us, the unworthy heirs of the expansion of the mission, enkindle the fire of love for Jesus in the whole country.

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