How to mark the 500th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in the Philippines | Inquirer Opinion

How to mark the 500th anniversary of Christianity’s arrival in the Philippines

/ 04:01 AM December 24, 2020

Why is there not much hoopla about the coming celebration of the 500th anniversary of the first Mass and baptism in the Philippines? There even seems to be confusion on how exactly to call the anniversary: the arrival of Christianity, anniversary of Christianization, first proclamation of the Gospel, etc.?

Everyone should concede, though, that historically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ reached the Philippines almost five centuries ago and this event is by no means trivial. Until now, we bask in the accolade of being “the most Christian nation” in Asia. Filipinos are actively sharing their faith in diaspora, filling up empty churches in Europe and igniting fervor in the tepid churches in the United States. This applies to both Filipino Catholics and those belonging to other Christian communities.

A decisive factor in the low-key publicity of the event is certainly the COVID-19 pandemic that pushed back some of the activities planned in 2021 to 2022. It might also have been affected by the negative impressions aroused by a President averse to the Catholic Church, its statements and activities. Or is it due to the increasing loss of the collective and influential voice of leaders of the Church in the public sphere, whether in spiritual or moral matters?

The image of the Church as the vigorous conscience of the people and one of the pillars of the memorable bloodless revolution of 1986 has steadily receded to distant memory.

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My friend, a teacher, predicted that unfortunately, the most that students will be taught about this anniversary are instructions on the friars’ cruelty and their enslavement of the natives. This is most unfortunate, since the Philippines was spared the harshness and violence of colonization experienced in other countries partly because the early missionaries were vanguards of the rights and dignity of the natives.

While native Filipinos rebelled against paying tribute to Spain, they nevertheless felt attracted to the tenets and practices the early missionaries taught them. They were also amazed at the dedication, perseverance, charity, and lived faith of the missionaries who did not heed the dangers and perils of mountains and seas in order to reach them, learn their language, and invite them to faith. Some of the early missionaries were real men of faith and holiness, as attested to by historical records and church recognition.

There have been bloody revolutions around the world—the French revolution, the Spanish revolution, the Mexican revolution—that brought many changes to their societies, and all resulted in a lasting impression of anti-clericalism and suspicion of the Church. The Philippine revolution did not include a hatred of the faith or of the institutions of the Church, but only the rejection of the corruption of some, not all, of the Church’s leaders. And, since gaining independence, the Church in this country has not experienced drastic numerical decline, but instead has seen expansion and growth.

Today, the Gospel of Jesus Christ still resonates in people’s hearts, as it promises to bring about peace, forgiveness, renewal, and unity. What turns people off from the Church in our time is not the powerful message of Jesus, but the self-referential and self-preserving attitudes of leaders and members who fail to show spiritual courage to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, who live detached from the reality of the poor around them, and who proclaim year after year various celebrations and themes that do not leave an impact on people’s lives.

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The 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines can be a good reason to reflect on the invitation of the Pope for the Church to go out of itself and be true missionary disciples.

Jonathan Daniels

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TAGS: Baptism, Christianity, Gospel of Jesus Christ, Mass, Religion

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