500 Years of Christianization of the Philippines
Sap 7, 7-11; Eb 4, 12-13; Mc 10, 17-30
Gethsemane, October 10, 2021
Most Reverend Excellency,
Dear brothers and sisters,
the Lord give you peace!
500 years ago, a group led by Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the archipelago of the Philippine islands and, certainly without he being aware of the future developments, began since then a work of evangelization in Asia that still leaves us amazed today. The Catholic faith, in fact, has grown continuously since then, and has so much incarnated in that land that it has become and still is an integral and constitutive part of Filipino identity and culture today.
The history of the Philippines is the history of the Church's most successful missionary effort in Asia. Like the proverbial mustard seed sown in fertile land, the growth and development of the Church in the Philippines have been the fruits of the work of missionary friars, supported by an indigenous clergy, and brought to life by a faithful people.
The celebration of this jubilee comes after a nine-year preparation, with each year carrying a specific theme that reflects the pastoral priorities of the church in the country. Since 1521, the Philippines has become a great Country and a great Church. Today, in fact, the Philippines have the third largest number of Catholics in the world, with a total of 86 Catholic archdioceses, dioceses, prelatures and apostolic vicariates, with over 80 million faithful. Impressive numbers.
From a Country evangelized five centuries ago, the Philippines is now perhaps the largest evangelizing Country. There are, in fact, about ten million Filipinos scattered around the world, as workers in different milieus. It means that there are ten million missionaries who, with their presence, bring the style of Christ into the world, often where Jesus is not yet known, as in our neighbor Countries, in the Gulf area. We see it also here in the Holy Land, in Israel, where all of you carry out your service, which we all know is not always easy and appreciated. Yet, it is known to all, how your simple and deep faith, rooted and convinced, provokes amazement and interest, questions and curiosity. Yours is a precious presence, not only because with your lifestyle you bring Jesus into the homes of tens of thousands of families, but also because your love for Jesus and the Church fills our Churches and awakens faith in our communities, at times little tepid.
The parishes and churches scattered throughout our territory of our diocese, in Israel, Cyprus or Jordan, have become your second home and it is nice to see how on Sundays and public holidays the spaces around the churches are filled with life, with different colors, fragrances and flavors. Traditional songs and new devotions are added to those already existing, such as Lorenzo Ruiz, unknown until recently in our churches. I say all this only to reiterate what has already been said at other times, but which must be repeated: your presence has become an integral part of the life of our Church, you are a constitutive part of the identity of this Church of the Holy Land, which loves you and thanks you for this wave of enthusiasm and love for the Church that you brought us and that we needed.
In a certain sense, I can say that your presence brings in our Church of the Holy Land, something of the life of the Church that I consider here lacking or perhaps lost: proclamation and tenderness. You do not proselytize, but, despite the fatigue of your service, despite the humiliations and exploitation to which you are not infrequently endured, you still know how to bring the joy of faith in Jesus and you announce it with your life and with your free and public prayer, that distinguishes you. Thank you for being here in our Church a joyful and sincere witness of faith. Even the tenderness of your service, often dedicated to the most fragile people in society, is an announcement, especially here in our divided country, often hardened in feelings and relationships, which finds it hard to trust others. Your tenderness is free, and it dissolves many fears.
500 years ago, a small seed arrived from Spain became with time a robust tree; a lively and solid Church grow in the Philippines. I wonder what ten million seeds scattered around the world will do today!
The Gospel we have proclaimed speaks to us of our common vocation. The rich man mentioned in the Gospel lacks nothing (Mk 10:21) except this: love! But it is precisely this lack that makes him dissatisfied and restless, in search of life. That man did nothing to deserve the gaze of Jesus, yet in no other part of the Gospel of Mark, in no other encounter we find this expression, as strong as this one: Jesus looks at him and loves him.
Despite this unique gaze, that man is unable to let himself be embraced by the love of Jesus and remains closed in on himself; the Gospel says that he went away sad. He was not able to get out of the sphere of duty (“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Mark 10,17). While faith is essentially a relationship that subsists in the sphere of love.
And it is love that pushes us out of ourselves, to follow Jesus to leave everything. It is Jesus' answer to Peter's question: “We have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10,28). Those who leave everything for love find everything through love.
The closing of the Gospel is very pertinent and speaks a lot about you and in a certain sense reaffirms how much your service here is not only a necessity, but also a mission, like the one that Jesus entrusted to his disciples: “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10,29–30)
You too have left home, parents, children, husbands, wives, families, property for love of them and you have become missionaries in the world. Here in this Country of ours you have found a second home, a new family of believers, a new land, along with persecutions! It is precisely the Gospel that speaks of you.
On behalf of the whole Church of the Holy Land, its bishops, its priests, men and women religious, faithful of all rites, I wish to thank you for being a building community in our midst and ask you to continue to pray for us.
We are at the beginning of a synodal journey wanted by Pope Francis, which will be opened today in Rome and here in the Holy Land at the end of this month. A journey that cannot be complete without your precious contribution, without this Church of ours becoming aware of the novelties and richness you have brought us, together with the hardships and sufferings that you too experience.
In the Church today there is much talk of re-evangelization. I like to think that even here in the Holy Land, in the Mother Church of Jerusalem, the one who brought the Gospel into the world, the Providence has entrusted to your community this wonderful mission: to bring back to us, here, the joy of the Gospel, the life force of God's Word, sharper and two-edged, like a sword and bringer of new life. We badly need it.
Best wishes for your jubilee! Thank you for your presence and may the Lord help all of us together to say like Jesus here in Gethsemane: “Your will be done”. Because in his will is our peace!