Celebrating a half-millennium of anything is rare, but Catholics from the Philippines living in Australia had the privilege of joining in exactly that kind of global commemoration of an historic milestone last week.
Exactly 500 years to the day since Christianity arrived in the Philippines – 16 March – Bishop Anthony Randazzo of Broken Bay led Filipino Catholics living in Sydney in marking the occasion.
On 16 March 1521 the first Spanish fleet arrived in the Philippines and planted the cross of Jesus Christ on the Island of Mactan in Cebu. Soon after the first Mass was celebrated, the first baptism took place and the faith quickly spread throughout the archipelago.
A major part of Australian life
Filipino Australians are the fifth-largest expat community, accounting for almost a quarter of a million Australians – 232,384 at the last census. Of those, three quarters identify as Roman Catholic. The Philippines is the top birthplace of Catholics in Australia born overseas.
Joining Bishop Randazzo and the Filipino community was the pope’s personal representative to the Church in Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, who is also from the Philippines. He was welcomed earlier by Diocesan Vicar General Fr David Ranson.
Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Parish, Chatswood, at which the Filipino-born Nuncio recognised in his homily five centuries of the Christian faith that have influenced and shaped the Filipino people.
Building the Church in Australia
Numerous other communities joined in the celebration including members of the Indian, Chinese, Korean and Irish Catholic communities.
“Filipinos are filled with gratitude for the message of the Gospel that was given 500 years ago,” Archbishop Yllana said in his homily.
“Australians of Filipino heritage generously live their Christian faith, often unheralded and through unassuming ways in the many parishes and communities around the nation. They preach the Gospel by their actions. They are readers, catechists, cleaners, and those actively present in the liturgy, they are faithful witnesses.”
Christ-centred and Marian
Filipino Catholicism is deeply Christocentric and Marian and should not be misunderstood as simply ‘ethnic’ or ‘devotional’, but rather Catholic and universal reflecting a deep understanding of the Gospel, he said.
A key part of the celebration was the handing over of a large wooden cross from the older members of the community to the younger generation. This came with a prayer and blessing to place the mantle of leadership on the younger generation and encourage them to step forward and take up their responsibility, like their forebears to live their baptismal vocation in the mission of the Church.
“Gifted to Give” is the theme of the quincentenary celebrations reflecting the renewed call to engage in mission. The theme proclaims that the gift of faith that was so gratefully received by the Filipino people ought to be freely and joyfully given.
A year of activities
The Filipino Chaplaincy in the Diocese of Broken Bay will be leading celebrations throughout the year to mark this significant milestone at various locations around Sydney and the Central Coast. The year-long commemorations include a “Flores de Mayo” (Flowers of May) celebration in honour of Our Lady on 9 May; a commemorative Mass to honour Filipino saints – San Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod on 11 July; a re-enactment of the First Mass in the Filipino Archipelago on 17 October; and “Simbang Gabi” (Christmas Novena Masses) celebrations beginning 12 December.