My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, as I said at the beginning of mass, it gives me so much joy to be with you here in Boljoon for this pontifical canonical coronation of your beautiful image of the Mother of God, of Mary, under the title of Patrocinio de Maria Santisima. And I'm extremely grateful to your Archbishop, Archbishop Jose Palma, for having invited me, together with Bishop Midyphil Billones, the auxiliary, Bishop of Cebu, and your beloved parish priest Msgr. Arturo Navales. And I want to also mention the presence of the Archbishop of Palo, John Du, who is also with us this afternoon to celebrate this amazing moment. This moment in which all of us together, express in a childlike and simple way our love for Mary, our love for Maria Santisima. Like a little child bringing a flower to his or her mother, so we will crown this image of Mary - to show Mary how much we love her, how appreciative we are for her maternal protection in our lives.
Photo from The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu Facebook
Your parish here has a distinguished history. And we reflect on that history as we celebrate the Closing of the 500 years of Christianity here in the Philippines - a story that began in 1521. And it was only about less than 80 years later in 1599 that a chapel was created here in Boljoon and became a parish in 1690. Run by the Augustinian fathers, the church of Boljoon has been dedicated for all this time to the Patrocinio de Maria Santisima. And as all of you know, and I'm sure are very proud, of the fact your church is the only church in Cebu that is listed in the Philippines as a national cultural treasure.
And indeed for me as your Apostolic Nuncio this afternoon, arriving in this church, I understood immediately when I entered why this church is listed as a national cultural treasure. It's indeed a beautiful architectural testimony to the enduring depth of the Catholic faith here in the province of Cebu, here in the Philippines.
Patrocinio de Maria Santisima. What does that mean in English? As Archbishop Palma referred to, it means she is our ‘patron’. We can say that patrocinio means ‘patronage’ in English. Maria Santisima means ‘the Most Holy Mary’, ‘Mary most holy’. She's our patron.
What is a patron? A patron is first of all, someone who protects you. A patron is someone who defends you. A patron is someone who advocates for you. And isn't that what Mary does for us as Christians? She is our protector. She's our patron. She's our defender. She's our mother who loves us with a deep and maternal love.
So first of all, Mary is our patron. And we, as I said, in a very simple way, we try to repay to her the debt of gratitude that we have, by this ceremony in which we place a crown on her image as a way of saying, ‘Thank you, Mama Mary, for all the graces that you have obtained for us now and into the future’. But to be a patron, and also brothers and sisters, to be an example. And Mary is an example for us. She is an example and what is she an example of? She's the example of humble faith. Humble and beautiful faith in God.
On May 31st, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation when Mary, who had just become pregnant with the baby Jesus, her pregnancy had just begun. What did she do on May 31? She rushed off to another town near Jerusalem to take care and to help her cousin Elizabeth who was advanced in her pregnancy, who was about to give birth. And when Mary comes close to the house of Elizabeth, Elizabeth says that the baby jumped for joy in Elizabeth's womb when Mary approached. And then Elizabeth has these very important words that you will hear on May 31st. Elizabeth says “For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy”. And then these words, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled.”
“Blessed is she who has believed” - that is why Mary is our example. “Blessed is she who has believed”. This idea of faith, this idea of belief, this is what Mary is an example of for us. And for you as Filipino people, celebrating 500 years of Christianity in this archipelago, we should be thanking God for the gift of faith. The gift to be able to say, “I believe. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the life of the world to come. I believe.” What a gift that is. Mary is blessed because she has believed. Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. But blessed is she who has believed.
Our Gospel today, and today we are celebrating the mass in anticipation of tomorrow, which is Divine Mercy Sunday, our gospel is all about faith. It's all about believing. It's all about one of the apostles. Thomas, who wasn't there when Jesus first appeared, and who doesn't initially believe that Jesus has truly risen from the dead. And then when Thomas is present, and Jesus encounters him, what does Jesus say to Thomas? “Put your finger here. See my hands. Bring your hand and touch my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Do not be unbelieving, but believe. And Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.”
So Thomas comes from unbelief to belief in Jesus' resurrection in the Gospel today. And for all of us, we need to cultivate the spirit of faith in our hearts. We need to do things to increase our faith.
How do we increase our faith? We increase our faith principally by praying. If we ask God for the gift of faith, I believe brothers and sisters, God will give us that gift. God always answers our prayers. He doesn't always answer them in the way that we think He will. Sometimes we ask for one thing and it doesn't happen. He gives us something else. Sometimes we can even say his answer to something we're asking for is “No, I cannot do that for you at this time”. God always answers our prayers. He doesn't always give us the answer that we want at times. But brothers and sisters, if we ask for faith, God will give us faith. So we need to pray for faith. “Lord, Increase my faith, make my faith strong”. Because when we have faith, our eyes are opened, and we begin to see the miracles of God all around us.
In the Gospel today, St. John, who writes the gospel, concludes the gospel by saying that Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in the gospels. But then St. John says these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and through this belief, you may have life in his name. So believing gives us life. Believing gives us life just as Mary believed the angel Gabriel, and God's life took flesh in her womb, and the unborn baby Jesus. So when we believe we receive life from God. Jesus in the Gospel today breathed on his apostles. He breathed on them. He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. What is the Holy Spirit? It's the breath of Jesus. Breath signifies life. If we don't breathe, we will not live.
We talked about someone who breathed his last means he died, right? He's no longer breathing. Breath is life. And if we have faith, we have life. Faith gives us life, supernatural life. God's grace, God's life which lives in us, which changes us, which opens our eyes so we can see God's miracles around us.
When you look in the gospels, brothers and sisters, and you read the gospels, you see that many of the miracles that Jesus performed were not spectacular, amazing miracles that would have convinced a non believer. They were miracles that convinced believers that Jesus was truly God. A little girl dies, he brings her back to life. Someone who had no faith would say she wasn't really dead. She wasn't really dead and he just woke her up from sleeping. Only those who believed in Jesus could see the miracle. That's true for us. So we need to pray for faith and then we will see the miracles of God all around us. Mary is this example of faith. Blessed is she who has believed and blessed are those who have not seen what the apostles saw and yet believes. And that's true for all of us here in this beautiful church of Bojoon this afternoon. We have faith in Christ, in His Church. We have not seen Jesus the way the apostles did. But we have faith. And God tells us “Blessed are you because you have believed”.
So today in a very simple way, in a very glorious way, we show our love and esteem and appreciation for Mama Mary, the patron of your beautiful parish here Patrocinio de Maria here in the province of Cebu, in the Archdiocese of Cebu. Your long history going back almost to the very beginning of the evangelization of the Philippines, something you should all be proud of. Pope Francis has a great love for the Filipino people. And as you know, he talks about the Philippine Filipino people as the ones who are bringing faith all over the world. And that is true. You have been gifted indeed to give that faith to others.
So my dear brothers and sisters, as a representative of Pope Francis, it gives me so much joy to be with you to honor Mary under this title Patrocinio de Maria Santisima in this beautiful day in which she is crowned, this beautiful day of the Pontifical canonical choral coronation of Our Lady. May God bless you and may your faith be strong.
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas