By Vatican News staff writer
It was on March 31, 1521, that the Eucharist was first celebrated on Philippine soil on the island of Limasawa, south of Leyte. Since 2012, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has been on a 9-year preparation for the 2021 5th centenary, with each year focussing on a specific theme and aspect of the Church and faith life.
With this in mind, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has dedicated 2021 as the Year of “Missio ad Gentes”, the Latin for “mission to the nations”. CBCP president, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao released a pastoral letter for the inauguration of the pastoral year, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 28.
“Gifted to give”
“The Christian faith arrived and prospered in our land, through the dedication and heroic sacrifices of thousands of men and women missionaries from various parts of the world,” notes the pastoral letter entitled, “Becoming Jesus’ Missionary Disciples”. “They treasured the gift of faith they had received and desired to share this gift with others.”
Archbishop Valles draws attention to the overall theme of the 9 years of preparation for the celebration of the 5th centenary, stressing that all Christians are “gifted to give.” This “giftedness”, the letter says, motivated generous missionaries over the centuries. It should also “enflame the hearts of all of us today to engage in mission here at home and in other countries (missio ad gentes)”. It recalls the mandate of Jesus: “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift” (Mt 10:8). “We pray for a missionary renewal of our Church -both at home (ad intra) and beyond our borders (ad extra) during our celebration of the 500 years -and into the future!” the bishops urge.
In keeping with the task of missionary renewal during the pastoral year, Archbishop Valles focuses on the virtues of joy and mercy. Citing Pope Francis 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, he says that salvation history is a “great stream of joy”. “Let the joy of faith be revived because God’s mercies never end. Unfortunately, ‘there are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter’. ‘An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral’. We all must not ‘end up stifling the joy of mission’, both here at home and in other lands!”
Speaking about mercy, the Philippine bishops’ president again cites the Pope regarding the Jubilee Year of Mercy 2016, where he stresses, “mercy is God’s identity card”. As the “wellspring of joy, serenity and peace”, which “connects God and man”, mercy is the “very foundation of the Church’s life”. “In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians,” the Pope says, “everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”
The Philippine bishops’ pastoral message for the year 2021 concludes, urging for two graces as exhorted by Pope Francis: “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigour”, and “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm”.