Updated: Apr 27
Over five hundred years ago, Ferdinand Magellan with 270 men aboard five galleon ships embarked into an expedition from Spain to discover the new route to the East Indies. After navigating thru the Atlantic Ocean and crossing a passageway in South America, the explorers reached an expanse of body of water, which Magellan named Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean). On 16 March 1521, they sighted Samar in the Philippines and the next day landed in Homonhon Island.
As documented by Antonio Pigafetta in his journal, on 31 March 1521 Easter Sunday, the first mass, was celebrated by Fr. Pedro de Valderrama along the shores of Limasawa Island or called “Mazaua,” west of Homonhon attended by two (2) Rajahs and natives of the island.
Pursuing the journey, Ferdinand Magellan with his crew arrived in Cebu in April 1521 where they erected a large wooden cross, a replica now known as Magellan’s Cross. On 14 April 1521, the first Catholic mass was celebrated in Cebu with the conversion and baptism of Rajah Humabon, his wife Juana and about 800 followers.
Celebration at the Vatican
The five hundredth anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines was celebrated on 14 March 2021 at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, with a Holy Mass by Pope Francis as tribute to the Filipino people who he considered as messengers of the faith. Concelebrating were Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General.
Pope Francis, in his moving homily during the Holy Mass, initially spoke of the love of God, through Jesus Christ, that was given to humanity. It is this giving that is the source of joy and love that accompanies us throughout life’s journey. In his words: “The more we love, the more we become capable of giving. It is not only what we can make or earn that matters; in the end, it is the love we are able to give.”
In this stage setting, he touched on the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines half a millennium ago. It is the great destiny of the Philippine nation to receive God’s love of Christianity. It was the source of joy for the nation, “evident in the people, seen in their eyes, on their faces, in the songs and in their prayers,” as Pope Francis phrased it. He is aware of the large number of workers that compose the migrant population in Rome. He alluded to them as “smugglers” of faith that wherever they work they carry and sow the faith. He expressed his gratitude to the Filipinos for spreading joy and for the beautiful experiences of families in Rome and in the world. He emphasised that their discreet hardworking presence was a testimony of faith.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, in his message during the Holy Mass, was thankful to Pope Francis for the Eucharistic celebration, for the gift of faith to the Filipinos, the good and noble traits that went with it in the transformation of a just, human, loving and peaceful country. He gave recognition to the huge contribution of the Christian faith in shaping the Filipino culture and the Filipino nation. It remains for the people to share the gift of faith as manifested in the work of migrants when they care for children like their own and elders like their own parents. He concluded his message by referring to Pope Francis as Lolo Kiko, grandfather of the Filipinos.
Commemorative Festivities in the Philippines
The National Quincentennial Committee has lined up several commemorative festivities throughout the year. Among these festivities on March 16, 2021 in Cebu retracing the original route of Ferdinand Magellan five centuries ago is the arrival of the Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Spanish Navy Training Ship.
The Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Charles John Brown, main celebrant of the anniversary mass on 31 March 2021 in Limasawa, commemorated the very first Easter Sunday Mass held on 31 March 1521.
2021 has also been declared by Pope Francis as Jubilee Year where plenary indulgence is granted to those visiting any of over 500 Jubilee churches across the Philippines “Gifted to Give” is the theme of the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. From a few converts to Christianity in April 1521, the Philippines is blessed being the 3rd largest Catholic country in the world.