“Faith shining in deeds of charity and mercy.” That, says Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, is the best way for Catholics to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines despite the ongoing pandemic.
The president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines was speaking to his brother Bishops during their 121st plenary assembly.
The 2-day, online event wrapped up on Wednesday, and saw over 80 Bishops discuss the ongoing health crisis and the Church’s continuing response.
As the Bishops began work on Tuesday, the Apostolic Nuncio, Charles John Brown, read out a message from Pope Francis.
In it, the Pope urged the Bishops of the Philippines to continue offering witness to "evangelical charity" amid the pandemic.
He also invited them to set up "more creative expressions" of charity in their pastoral work.
These efforts, said Pope Francis, would help the Philippine Church "to be recognized as ‘a home with open doors’, offering hope and strength to the suffering and to all who seek a more humane and dignified life."
Sharing gift of faith
Archbishop Valles urged Filipinos to share the “gift of faith” with others.
“Anyone of us can take up this challenge – to serve the least and lowest of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The Archbishop admitted that 500th anniversary celebration plans have been thrown off course due to the pandemic, but said the faithful “cannot take this precious gift [of faith] for granted.”
“We might wake up one day,” he warned, “like other people have: no longer able to share this gift with others, for our hearts and souls have been hijacked by other beliefs, ephemeral if not empty.”
Extra year of celebrations
Quincentenary celebrations were set to wrap up in April 2021.
But due to the difficulty in organizing proper celebrations, the Bishops have extended the “Great Jubilee” for an extra year, which will end in April 2022.
The first Mass in the Philippines was celebrated on 31 March 1521, on the island of Limasawa.
On 14 April, the Church celebrates the 500th anniversary of the first local Baptism, which took place in what is now the Archdiocese of Cebu.
New national shrine
During their plenary assembly, the Bishops also elevated the status of a popular pilgrimage site in Obando town, in the Diocese of Malolos.
The San Pascual Baylon Parish-Shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepcion de Salambao will soon be known as a National Shrine.
The parish church was founded by Franciscan missionaries from Spain on 29 April 1754, as a small chapel dedicated to St. Clare of Assisi.
A few years later, local fishermen discovered an image of the Immaculate Conception, which came to be known as Our Lady of Salambao.
In raising the church to the status of a national shrine, the Bishops have recognized the faith and devotion of the many pilgrims who visit the parish each year.