500th Anniversary of Christinanity

Why 500? On the 500th Anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines

(We are publishing in toto and with the author’s permissionthis short reflection posted by Fr. Melchor L. Mirador, OSA on his Facebook timeline last January 17, 2021, the Feast of Santo Niño.)

In 1965, the Catholic Church celebrated the 400th Anniversary of Christianization of the Philippines with the Basilica del Sto. Niño in Cebu as the focal point of such grand and significant event. The Holy See sent a Papal Legate Ildebrando Cardinal Antoniutti who conferred to the church the honorific title “Basílica Menor” upon the authority of Pope Paul VI who elevated the Church to the rank of the Minor Basilica (“Basílica Menor del Santo Niño”) on its 400th anniversary through the papal decree “Ut clarificetur nomen Domini” dated April 1, 1965. In this same ecclesiastical document the Basilica is designated as the “Mother and Head of all Churches in the Philippines” (“Mater et Caput Omnium Ecclesiarum Insularum Philippinarum”).

When the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) declared the year 2021 as the 500th Anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines, it was referring at first to the 500th Anniversary of the Introduction to Christianity (1521), but later the word “Introduction” (to Christianity) was simply deleted/forgotten, and is now being introduced solely as “Christianization”. This indeed has created confusion about the history of our Christian faith in the Philippines in reference to the aforementioned 400th Anniversary of Christianization celebrated in 1965.

In addition to such a confusion of declaring the year 2021 as the 500th anniversary of the Christianization of the Philippines, the historical event of the first circumnavigation of the world (1519–1522) under the command of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan which started from Spain and traversing the West-side of the globe (Atlantic Ocean down to Argentina in South America and up towards the East Indies, sailing through the vast and unchartered Pacific Ocean), and with its return route, passing by the Spice Island in Indonesia towards the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and up towards Europe (back to Spain) should be viewed not in its religious context but rather in its global context as the first circumnavigation of the world. Primarily, the Magellan expedition was to find an alternative route in going to the East Indies for the “Spice Island” by exploring the west-side of the globe. It was then at first the age of exploration and discovery, and not of evangelization in spreading Christianity. The evangelization or the spreading of Christianity started only after the period of colonization (from 1565 onwards) wherein the Spanish government took control of the islands and began to introduce the Spanish form of government, the Encomienda system, and its religion, the Catholic faith. Viva, Pit Señor!

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