Papal Nuncio hails: Beautiful,distinct Filipino Catholicism

Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (The Freeman) - April 15, 2021 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — Exactly five centuries after the first baptism in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Church’s apostolic nuncio yesterday hailed the Filipino way of expressing the Catholic faith as “beautiful” and “distinctive.”

“What is so beautiful about Philippine Catholicism, what we celebrate today with hearts filled with joy, is the fact that in these five centuries...the Catholic faith has entered deeply into Filipino culture, and has produced a distinctively Filipino expression of the unchanging and universal truth of the Catholic faith,” Archbishop Charles John Brown said.

Brown con-celebrated the Pontifical Mass at the Plaza Sugbu grounds across the Magellan’s Cross in Cebu City, which was among the major activities marking the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the Philippines.

A limited crowd numbering a few hundreds joined the proceedings, observing health protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his homily, the papal nuncio cited the Simbang Gabi tradition and the Sto. Niño devotion as examples of the Filipinos’ “distinct” way of expressing their faith.

“We see the results of that process (expression) in countless elements of Filipino Catholicism. Simbang Gabi masses, for example. Today, in a special way, we see that process in our devotion to the Sto. Niño,” Brown said, relaying what Pope Francis said in a recent video message on the 500th anniversary of Philippine Christianity that “the tender love of the Sto. Niño is the symbol of the arrival of Christianity in your archipelago.”

While devotion to the Holy Child began in Europe, Brown said it has been transformed into a typically Filipino devotion “so beautifully evident” in the annual Sinulog Festival in Cebu.

“Today, 500 years after the Queen Juana embraced the Child Jesus and was baptized and danced with beautiful joy, the same Catholic faith is being carried throughout the world by Filipino Catholics, who are not explorers, adventurers, or colonizers but, in many cases, overseas Filipino workers, bringing with them their Catholic faith and their tender devotion to the Sto. Niño to every corner of the world today,” he said.

In the face of the pandemic, the apostolic nuncio also called on the faithful to ask the Holy Family -- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph -- to bless, protect, and inspire Filipino families in this difficult time.

Also present yesterday were Cebu Archbishop Palma, Cotabato Archbishop-Emeritus Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Midyphil Billones, Cebu Auxiliary Bishop-Emeritus Antonio R. Rañola, Palo Archbishop John Du, Talibon Bishop Patrick Daniel Parcon, Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad, Baguio Bishop Victor Bendico, Maasin Bishop Precioso Cantillas, CBCP Secretary-General Msgr. Berni Pantin, the Augustianian friars, and other visiting priests.

There were also parish representatives, some government officials, men and women in uniform, rest of the laity, bishops, rest of the clergy and women religious, and also those who had received the sacrament of Christian initiation during the past few days.

Palma, in his message, told the crowd: “Let's lift up to God our thanksgiving. Our gratitude for 500 years of Christianity for having been baptized and for knowing that we are a community of God's children.”

He also urged the faithful to pray that their congregation “will make us aware how privileged we are to be called children and how privileged we are to be invited to share our gifts.”


Yesterday’s occasion also saw seven children from Cebu receiving the sacrament of baptism, drawing parallels to the events of 500 years ago when Cebu’s Rajah Humabon and wife Hara Humamay were baptized by Father Pedro de Valderrama, who was part of the Spanish expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan.

The baptized children were David Villagracia, John Michael Dragon, Milby Elosendo, April Suan, Billy Cony Pahl, French Cedric Sison, and Jolito C. Abaquita Jr.

“To the children,” Brown said, “you have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light. Keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts.”

“Let us continue to walk always as children of the light, keeping the flame of faith alive in our hearts so that when the Lord comes to call each one of us, we may go out to meet him and enter to life with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom,” he added.

Brown began his homily by recounting the first Catholic baptism in the Philippines:

“Magellan and his crew had reached the Philippines on March 16, 1521 landing on the then uninhabited island of Homonhon. There they collected food and water before moving on to Limawasa (now in the Diocese of Maasin) where they arrived on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521, and there celebrated the Holy Mass.

“From Limasawa, they came here to Cebu, arriving about a week later, and here the Cebu chieftain, Rajah Humabon and his queen, Hara Humamay, were baptized along with hundreds of their subjects.

“The chieftain and his queen became Carlos and Juana of Cebu. They were baptized by the chaplain of Magellan's expedition, Fr. Pedro de Valderrama. And Magellan's chronicler, who was from Venice, Antonio Pigafetta, gave the statue of Sto. Niño to Queen Juana as a baptismal gift.”

Performers from the Sandiego Dance Company reenacted the first baptism before the mass yesterday.

According to the chronicles of Pigafetta, it was a Sunday when Rajah Humabon, the ruler of Cebu, was baptized by Fr. Valderrama. Magellan, the expedition's captain, accordingly threatened Humabon’s allies who refused to be baptized that they would “taste the wrath of Spain.”

Magellan also ordered the display of a large cross in the middle of the piazza, now known as Plaza Sugbu in Cebu City, for veneration, reiterating to the new converts the need to “burn all their idols and set up a cross in their place.”

After the baptism, Humabon was named Carlos and the chief declined Magellan's invitation for a lunch aboard the flagship, Trinidad.

After lunch, another baptism was held for women, including the wife of Humabon, their family, and 800 more. The Queen of Cebu reportedly waited for Fr. Valderrama on shore because the usual lunchtime among Spaniards was then at 2 p.m. The baptism continued on the succeeding days.

A big Catholic Nation

Today, the Philippines is ranked third in the world with the most baptized Catholics and  tops other countries with most baptisms of young children, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines(CBCP) reported yesterday.

Citing on the latest Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Catholic News Service on April 10 reported that the country recorded more than 1.6 million baptisms of children under the age of 7 at the end of 2019.

Next in line is Mexico with more than 1.48 million; Brazil with more than 1.05 million; 595,286 in the US; and Colombia with 442,396.

Overall, Brazil had 177 million baptized Catholics in 2019; Mexico had 115.5 million; and the Philippines had 89 million.  — Caecent N. Magsumbol, JMD (FREEMAN)

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