By Vatican News staff writer
Five hundred years ago, on 11 November 1520, Fray Pedro de Valderrama, one of the chaplains for the expedition of Portuguese explorer Hernando de Magallanes, offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the first time in the land that is now Chile.
To mark the occasion, Pope Francis has sent a letter to Bishop Bernardo Bastres Florence, in whose Diocese of Punta Arenas the liturgy was celebrated.
“God entered from the South”
The anniversary of the first Mass “is an historic date,” the Pope wrote, “not only for the Diocese of Punta Arenas, but for the entire Catholic Church in Chile.”
Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father notes that it is “from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God . . . is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.” For this reason, he continues:
We can rightly say, as the motto of the Diocese of Punta Arenas states, that ‘God entered from the South,’ because that first Mass celebrated with faith, the simplicity of an expedition in a then unknown territory, marked the beginning of the Church that continues to go make its pilgrim way in that beloved nation.
Living the Eucharistic mystery
Although the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made large scale celebrations of the anniversary impossible, Pope Francis nonetheless told the people of Chile, “There is no obstacle that can silence the gratitude that flows from the hearts of all of you, sons and daughters of the Church on pilgrimage in Chile, who with faith and love renew your dedication to the Lord, with the sure hope that He will continue to accompany your journey in the course of history.”
He encouraged them “to live the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery, which unites us to Jesus, with a splendor of adoration and thanksgiving to the Lord, because it is for us the principle of new life and unity, which impels us to grow in fraternal service to the poorest and most disinherited of our society.”
A fraternity of solidarity and effective service
Pope Francis said he was “spiritually united” to the Chilean people in thanking “the Lord who continues to make Himself ‘bread’ in the Eucharist,” and who continually calls everyone, “in His love to live a fraternity of solidarity and effectiveness which does not exclude, does not oppress, and does not ignore.”
A sign during the celebration
Pope Francis’ letter was read on Sunday during a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Bishop Bastres to commemorate the first Mass in Chile.
During the liturgy, Bishop Bastres announced that the Diocese would take over the John Paul II Residence for the elderly in Hogar de Cristo, which had been in danger of closing. The Bishop described this move as “a sign” during the 500th anniversary of the first Eucharist in the country, saying the Diocese would commit its help to the elderly “because we recognize the Lord in them.”
He continued, “It is the poor and abandoned, including many who have no voice in our society and are lonely and sick, whom we want to invite to the common table of our communities.”