March 19, 2021
A yearlong commemoration of Christianity’s 500th anniversary in the Philippines will be officially inaugurated on Easter Sunday, April 4. Bishop Mark Seitz will celebrate Mass to pay tribute to the momentous occasion with the Filipino community of the Diocese of El Paso on Saturday March 20, 2021 at St. Patrick Cathedral at 10:00am. Click here to attend the Mass virtually.
Pope Francis led a Holy Mass celebrating the event on Sunday, March 14 at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Mass was attended by several members of the Filipino Church including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the pope’s vicar for Rome.
In his homily he said Filipinos "received the joy of the Gospel half a millennia ago, and this joy is evident in your people.” Pope Francis called Filipino women “smugglers” of faith because they “sow the faith” everywhere they go. He added, “On this very important anniversary for God’s holy people in the Philippines, I also want to urge you to persevere in the work of evangelization – not proselytism, which is something else. The Christian proclamation that you have received needs constantly to be brought to others."
Fr. Anthony C. Celino, Pastor of St. Raphael Church and a canon lawyer for the Diocese of El Paso, who came to the United States from the Philippines to study for the priesthood says, "this is a celebration of centuries of faith." He calls it a "reverse mission because Filipinos all over the world who originally received the faith through missionaries bring their faith with them; we are now the missionaries." There are more than 10 million Filipino migrants living in almost one hundred countries in the world.
Magellan's Cross in Cebu City, Philippines. Photo credit: Getty Images
The story of how the Philippines became Catholic is long and complex and worth learning more about. It essentially began when Ferdinand Magellan, a 16th-century Portuguese explorer, led a Spanish expedition to what they thought was the ‘East Indies’ from 1519 to 1522. They reached what is today known as the Philippines on March 16, 1521. It is believed that the first Mass was celebrated on Philippines soil on March 31, 1521, on the island of Limasawa, south of Leyte. Some 800 people were baptized to form the first Catholic community.
“I want to express our gratitude to you for leading us in this Eucharistic celebration and thanksgiving for the arrival of the faith in the Philippines 500 years ago. We bring you here the filial love of the Filipinos in the 7,641 islands of our country." — Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle
The Filipino-American community established a permanent endowed fund in 2007 as a legacy to the Filipino heritage in our diocese and make annual contributions to support vocations and priests in their retirement. Proceeds from the annual Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Christmas tradition, benefit the Filipino-American Fund.