Pope Francis has sent a video message to the Philippines to mark the 500 year anniversary of the first Mass on Philippine soil on Easter Sunday.

“Give thanks for the gift of faith. Thank God for the people who have given you faith and for the people to whom you will transmit the faith, renewing the desire to evangelize, to reach others and bring them the hope and joy of the Gospel,” the pope said in the video sent on April 4.

Fr. Pedro de Valderrama offered the first Catholic Mass in the Philippines on Easter Sunday in 1521 on the island of Limasawa. 

The Spanish priest had been a part of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition which first made contact with the Filipino natives on March 28, 1521. Fr. Valderrama also celebrated the first baptism in the Philippines on the island of Cebu on April 14 of the same year. 

Today, the Philippines has the third largest number of Catholics in the world. An estimated 86% of the 108 million population of the Philippines is Catholic.

Pope Francis said in his video message that he has fond memories of his visit to the Philippines in January 2015. The final Mass during the pope’s apostolic trip had the largest crowd for a papal visit in history.

“Dear friends, I remember my visit to your country with great affection. I have not forgotten that final meeting with nearly seven million people. You are generous. You are abundant. You know how to celebrate the faith,” he said.

“The pilgrim people of God in the Philippines” also know what it means to accompany Jesus along the way of the cross, the pope said.

He pointed to the many challenges that people in the Philippines have faced in recent years with earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“But, despite the pain and devastation, you were able to carry the cross and continue walking. You have suffered a lot, but you have also got up again, every time. Keep working, rebuilding, helping each other like good Cyrenians. Thank you also for the witness of strength and trust in God, who never abandons you,” Francis said.

“Do not be afraid, in this mission you are not alone. Two great saints of your lands accompany you: Saint Peter Calungsod and Saint Lorenzo Ruiz. Two holy catechists, who knew how to give freely what they had received freely: life and faith in Jesus,” he said.

Pope Francis offered Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 14 to mark 500 years of the Catholic faith in the Philippines. Filipino Catholics living in Rome attended the Mass at the Vatican, which was also live-streamed for people to watch around the world.

The papal Mass began with a procession of eight representatives of the Filipino community dancing and carrying the cross of Magellan and the Holy Child of Cebu.

In his video message, the pope recalled that the Holy Child of Cebu is a symbol of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines and a reminder of “the hidden life of the Holy Family in Nazareth.”

“Mary and Joseph raised the Child Jesus with love. You too, opening the doors of your families to the Holy Child, will be able to transmit to their children the faith they have received from their parents. Thank you for that deep sense of family, community, fraternity, and unity that keeps them firm in faith, joyful in hope, and solicitous in charity,” he said.

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