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Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio on the occasion of 501st Anniversary of the 1521 Limasawa Mass

Jesus spoke to the Jewish people, he said, “You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf; but you do not want to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, dear Bishop Precioso D. Cantillas, Bishop of Maasin, I thank you once again for the invitation to be with you at the conclusion of this quincentennial celebration of the arrival of Christianity here in the Philippines. I’m delighted, as I said last night, to be here with Bishop Nolly C. Buco, the Auxiliary-Bishop of Antipolo, Msgr. Bernardo Pantin from the CBCP, the General Secretary. I want to recognize also the distinguished government officials with us this morning, Secretary Roger G. Mercado, secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways, Governor Damian G. Mercado of the Province of Southern Leyte, and of course, our beloved Mayor Melchor P. Petracorta of the Municipality of Limasawa.

So, as I have said, it's a great joy and immense privilege for me as the representative of Pope Francis to be with all of you here on the Island of Limasawa, to commemorate the 501st anniversary of the celebration of the first Mass on Filipino soil – March 31st 1521. As all of us know from our History, Magellan and his crew had reached the Philippines on March 16th of 1521, landing on the then uninhabited island of Homonhon. They didn’t celebrate Mass there, but, as you know, they collected food and water before sailing here, across this beautiful sea that is all around us at this shrine, arriving here on Easter Sunday, March 31st 1521. Erecting a cross and celebrating Easter Mass, celebrated by the Augustinian Father Pedro de Valderama, 501 years ago today, on this island, the first Mass. We can say, “the arrival of Jesus”, “the arrival of Jesus in the Philippines” because the Eucharist is Jesus. Let us always remember that. That is why we’re celebrating a votive Mass for the Holy Eucharist today, because the Eucharist is Jesus, His body, blood, soul, and divinity.

It’s very interesting here in the Philippines as we celebrate, we come to the conclusion of 500 years, and we celebrate this wonderful anniversary now at the end of this year of celebration, which began a year ago. It’s interesting, isn't it? That here in the Philippines, when we celebrate the arrival of Christianity, the first event, really, we celebrate is what happened here the first Mass. So, the arrival of the Eucharist. Then a little bit later, we celebrate the beautiful celebration of the first baptism, don't we? In Cebu when Humabon and Juana were baptized and they were given the beautiful image of the Santo Niño. But it’s interesting, so, in most countries, when they celebrate the arrival of Christianity, this focus only on baptism. Like the baptism of the French king Clovis in 496. So, the focus of then baptism. But here in the Philippines slightly different. The first event is the Eucharist and then the baptism.

We can say that in a logical sense, maybe it doesn’t make so much sense, because first of all, all of us receive baptism before we receive the Eucharist. But maybe logically, it doesn’t make sense, but theologically it makes perfect sense, because the Eucharist is the Lord, as I said; and we are baptized in order to receive the Eucharist. That is why we are baptized. So, there's a priority of the Eucharist; and that is what we see in this wonderful celebration here on Limasawa: the priority of the Eucharist, Jesus in the Eucharist, first. Then everything follows from that, doesn't it? Baptism, all the sacraments, evangelization, because the Eucharist is everything.

The Eucharist is Jesus. Jesus is the Bread of Life, as He said to the Jewish people in the Gospel this morning, “You do not want to come to me to have life.” He has life that he wants to give us. Let's meditate on that idea of the life that Jesus wants to give us.

Here in this beautiful morning, we're surrounded by natural, we say biological life. The sea is filled with fish. This beautiful atmosphere is filled with birds. We have fish and birds and trees, even life that we can't see with our eyes: bacteria. We are surrounded by natural biological life. It's all around us, especially here on a place as beautiful as Limasawa. This natural life, biological life.

It's very interesting that all of us have natural biological life in us. Each and every one of us this morning. We are alive biologically, physically. Why? Because we are feeding, eating, things that are or were alive, every single calorie that you take. Think about this, and we have to watch our calories, obviously. Think about it. Every calorie you take was something that was alive. Every source of energy that keeps you alive this morning on a natural, biological, physical level was something that was alive. Whether it was the pig that gave us the beautiful bacon that I had this morning, whether it's the grain that made the pancit, every single calorie was something that was alive and keeps you alive. You are alive physically, naturally, biological because you're absorbing this life. If you stop taking any calories, your natural life will finish. You’ll last, maybe three weeks or so. No more. To stay alive physically, biologically, you need to absorb life by eating things that were alive.

Now, this leads us to understand the beauty, the amazing beauty of the Eucharist. When Jesus says, “Come to me to have life,” He's talking about another form of life, that's similar. It's similar to natural life, but is something better, something more, because natural physical life, biological life in everyone who's here in the Piazza and the Chapel at some point will end. At some point, natural life will depart from our bodies. But because we are receiving the Bread of supernatural life, another form of life is in you: the life of Jesus, the life of the resurrected Lord is in you. This different form of life, this supernatural life. We have another word for this supernatural life. It's called God's grace. It's in us. It's nourishing us. And just as we need to eat physical food, biological food to stay alive. Naturally, we need to receive the Eucharist to stay alive, supernaturally. And the Eucharist is a form of life that Jesus gives us that will take our bodies even and help us to go through natural death into eternal life. The power of the Eucharist will make our bodies live again. This is the message of Christianity. This is the message of the Catholic Church.

You know when someone is close to physical death, we call the priest, the priest who anoints them. Of course, the priest also, if possible, should give them the Eucharist. The so-called Viaticum. Right? The last time a person receives Jesus in the Eucharist to have that last influx of supernatural life. So they can traverse through death and enter into eternal life.

This is our faith. This is why the Eucharist is everything. This is why it's so beautiful that last night, 12 deacons, 12 young men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Maasin. In these twelve men, beginning today, actually beginning last night, will celebrate the Mass and will bring the Bread of Life, of supernatural life to people all over this diocese. That is a beautiful way that most appropriate way, the most wonderful way to celebrate 501 years since the first Mass, here on this island.

Priests are made to bring this life to people. Life begins, as we mentioned in the Sacrament of baptism, but baptism is directed towards the Eucharist. When we fall into sin, grave, sin, and what do we call a grave sin? We call it mortal sin. Why mortal? Mortal means deadly. Because mortal sin kills that supernatural life in us, and it needs to be revived through the beautiful Sacrament of Confession that these young priests will be hearing in preparation for Easter. In confession, people come back to life. People are raised from the dead. In a supernatural sense, this is the glory of the priesthood that we celebrate in these wonderful days here on Limasawa.

Finally, we think about the pandemic of COVID-19, which God willing is coming to an end. We've gone through two very difficult years and the most difficult thing about this has been, yes, we've had wonderful Masses live streamed. In fact, I've done many live-streamed Masses. But you're sitting at home watching mass on your cell phone or on your laptop, it’s not the same because you're not able to receive the Bread of Life. Right? When you're at home, you can pray, and please do. And it's better than nothing. It's better than nothing, but it's not the same. So, let's after two years of this kind of Eucharistic fasting, we can say we've been forced. Many of the faithful people, not be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, to pray on these live-streamed Masses. But now it's ending, God willing, and we can rush back to Mass, rush back to the source of supernatural life, rush back to our God and savior Jesus Christ, who is waiting for us, who loves us, and who tells us always, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger. I am the bread of life.”

So, dear brothers and sisters, as you can see, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, as a representative of Pope Francis, it gives me so much joy to be here with you on Limasawa, on this beautiful morning, surrounded by the wonderful sea here. So incredible, beautiful place in this wonderful sanctuary. Love the beautiful statue of Santo Niño, which Niño, which makes us think of the baptisms in Cebu. And of course, under the watchful eyes of Our Lady, our mother, the one who brought Jesus into the world by her, “yes”.

God bless you and happy 501st birthday.

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