People enjoy the sunset on Manila Bay, Philippines, in this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo. The quincentenary that marks the introduction of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines cannot go unnoticed, given the impact and influence that Catholicism has and continues to have in the everyday lives of Filipinos. CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

Mass to mark 500 years of Filipino Christianity

  • November 24, 2021

A Filipino Fiesta can go on a long time, and then into overtime. But given that Filipinos have been Christian for 500 years, it’s no surprise that the quincentennial celebrations in Toronto have stretched out longer than the original plan.

Cardinal Thomas Collins will preside over the closing Mass for the year of celebrations Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. both in person at Our Lady of the Assumption Church and streaming on the quincentennial official website at

“We actually intended to close the celebration in July,” said organizing committee member Rosario Pascua of St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham. “But when we were seeing an uptake in some of the virtual talks, we thought maybe there is an appetite for these virtual talks we were putting together.”

The planning committee was then hoping to wrap things up in November, but scheduling the church and the celebrants proved difficult.

Thanks to COVID, most of the year of celebration has been confined to cyberspace, beginning with the Filipino tradition Simbang Gabi, running into last Christmas. Simbang Gabi is a sort of turbo-charged novena — nine dawn processions to the church praying the rosary, culminating in a Mass each morning. The ninth procession and Mass of the cycle is on Christmas Eve.

In and out of lockdown over the course of the year, Filipino faith traditions found an outlet on YouTube, Facebook and the ph500toronto web site. At Easter there was a virtual Pabása ng Pasyón, or reading of the Passion.

“Typically, across the three social media platforms, we would get 2,000 views for each of the virtual talks,” said Pascua.

The first Mass in the Philippines was celebrated on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521 on the island of Limasawa. At that Mass Rajah Humabon and Hara Amihan were baptized and given the baptismal names Carlos and Juana.

Under Spanish colonial rule the Philippines became, and remains today, the only majority Christian nation in Asia. The population in the Philippines is 80.6-per-cent Roman Catholic.

While Filipino faith traditions can be distinctive, Filipinos always feel at home in a Catholic Church, no matter where they go, said Pascua.

“We’re quite adaptable,” said Pascua. “You’ve seen many Filipinos around the world, not only in Toronto, where they are able to adapt to the culture and even our Catholic Church. We’ve seen a lot of Filipinos being engaged and mobilized within the parishes, and keeping the faith strong even if they are in a different land.”

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