500 years of FAITH

The statue of Santo Nino, the baby Jesus, stands on display during the Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa March 19 closing the year-long Hawaii celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.

The anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines has a special significance for Hawaii

By Patrick Downes
Hawaii Catholic Herald

You could call it the second coming of the infant Jesus — the appearance 500 years ago of Santo Nino on the shores of Cebu island in the Philippines. The gift of the statue of the royally-attired Christ child from European explorers to the native islanders helped initiate the conversion to Christianity of an entire Asian nation.

And, it could be argued, the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines in 1521 was equally as influential for the Catholic Church in Hawaii as the arrival of the first Sacred Hearts missionaries from France nearly 200 years ago.

Three reasons come to mind. First, the arrival to Hawaii of Philippine immigrants, who were overwhelmingly Catholic, changed the face of the island church with their numbers, their traditions and their fervor. Second, their plantation faith fed a multitude of second-generation religious vocations. Third, the more recent flood of sisters and priests from the Philippines to staff our parishes, schools and institutions, has buttressed today’s island church, which might otherwise be in sorry shape.

Right, Bishop Larry Silva poses for photos with the laity.

So the Mass March 19 at the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa celebrating the end of the 500th anniversary year of that auspicious event, was appropriately festive, even during Lent.

The pews were filled with more than 600 people from Oahu, Kauai and Maui. Many were dressed in their finest Filipino attire, bright, shimmering and lacy. The 25 participating priests and 12 deacons wore white and gold stoles designed for the occasion, with images of the 500th anniversary logo. Many had face masks printed with the theme. The bishop’s miter and chasuble were made for the event.

Ten minutes before the Mass started, an inter-parish group of children and adults performed choreographed hand and arm gestures to the recorded song “We Give Our Yes,” the international anthem of the anniversary.

“We stand before the grand horizon,” the song by Father Carlo Magno Marcelo began, “500 years of faith, grateful today.”

Leading the procession at the start of Mass was a brown-skinned Santo Nino statue wearing a crown and a red, white and gold cape, standing on a large bed of white chrysanthemums, carnations and lilies, carried on the shoulders of four men.

The liturgy was for the feast of that day, St. Joseph.

The polished 20-member Our Lady of Manaoag choir sang lilting hymns in English, Ilocano and Tagalog, accompanied by piano, two guitars, bass, drums and harmonica.

“We thank God for the faith handed down so lovingly to us by our ancestors,” the presider Bishop Larry Silva said in his opening greeting.

Ten Hawaii priests, mostly Filipino, pose for a photo before the Mass celebrating the 500th anniversary Mass of Christianity in the Philippines at the Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa in Honolulu. (Photos courtesy of Dann Ebina)

In his homily, Bishop Silva asked the congregation to take an imaginary leap to the year 2521 for the 1000th anniversary of the arrival of the Catholic faith in the Philippines. It isn’t that far-fetched considering the anniversary we celebrate today, he said.

“When the Catholic faith was first taken to Cebu in 1521, who knew that it would grow so strong in the next 500 years?” the bishop said. “Who knew that the Philippines would become one of the most Catholic countries in Asia; or that Filipinos would be found in every part of the world, celebrating that faith that was planted on that one day over 500 years ago?”

Bishop Larry Silva delivers his homily. (Photo courtesy of Dann Ebina)

But just as today “we come together to celebrate the growth of that mustard seed that spread out its shoots to embrace all the world,” he said, “we also need to look forward in hope, so that (500 years from now) what seems to be such a great flourishing of faith today may be considered but a mustard seed that began to flourish 500 years before.”

“We are called to hope that this same Santo Nino will come even more alive so that he can teach even more people throughout the world and across the centuries that he is Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, and Mighty God,” Bishop Silva said.

“But our hope must be incarnated in our acts of evangelization, of sharing the Good News of Jesus with others. Our ancestors did this for us.”

“And so, we come together … to celebrate our faith,” he said. “But in the midst of all this, we need to be careful that we do not lose sight of Jesus.”

“We can easily become distracted by the outward trappings of our faith … and leave Jesus behind,” he said. “Whether we are Filipinos or not, … without this Holy Child at the center of our lives and faith, we are nothing.”

The Our Lady of Manaoag choir sings. (HCH photo | Patrick Downes)

The theme for the anniversary was “Gifted to Give,” reflecting the reception a half millennium ago of the gift of faith which, in turn, has been shared around the world.

The prayers of the faithful were recited in English, Tagalog, Ilocano, Cebuano, and several other Philippine dialects, demonstrating the unity of the Body of Christ in the Philippines.

Before the Mass ended, Father Edmundo N. Barut Jr., chairman of the executive committee that planned the Hawaii celebration of the 500th anniversary, read through a long list of acknowledgments.

On March 16, 1521, explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his Spanish fleet arrived on the island of Cebu, Philippines. Two weeks later on March 31, the chaplain of the expedition, Father Pedro de Valderama, celebrated the first Mass on the island, and on April 14, 1521, baptized the native King Rajah Humabon and Queen Hara Humamay, and 800 subjects. Magellan gave as a gift to the queen the image known as Santo Nino.

On the actual day of the anniversary last year, March 16, Bishop Silva celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for the event at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. The commemoration was diminished somewhat because of pandemic restrictions.

After Saturday’s Mass, the celebration continued outside with the distribution of bento lunches with a side of lechon.

The same faith that we share

Father Edmundo N. Barut Jr.

The Hawaii Catholic Herald asked Father Edmundo N. Barut Jr., chairman of the executive committee that planned the Hawaii celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines, to describe the “gift” the Faith of the Philippines has been to the Church in Hawaii. Here is his response.

“Our faith is alive, resilient and a grace we received from God to be shared with others, in the spirit of the meaningful expression: ‘Gifted to Give.’ With our faith, we are missionaries, whether we came to Hawaii as priests, deacons, religious or lay people.

“The local born Filipinos in Hawaii received their faith foremost from their parents, and even from their grandparents, who came from the Philippines. And the same faith that we share together is what is binding all of us as one family, even in our respective faith communities.”