Most Rev. Midyphil Billones, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu
As we celebrate the quincentenary of our faith, the question that keeps popping out in my mind is this: as a Cebuano believer, am I excited about it? Yes, there is the pandemic to worry about, the restrictions to deal with and the surviving to struggle through, so does celebrating this event have a significance in my life right now? My humble yet resounding answer is yes! Yes, for three reasons: the event is unrepeatable, irreplaceable, irrevocable.
The event is unrepeatable. Philosophers speculating on the flow of time would say that it is a continuum whereby the past present and future is connected. Yet even in this conceptual view, there is a recognition of luminous landmarks that shaped the flow of history. One such precious gem is April 14, 1521 where the First Baptism in Cebu occurred. From this germinal foundation of Christianity, it spread to the rest of the country. The amazing thing is that we are here, alive at this point of history 500 years later. Our lifetime could have been in another period of history, yet here we are. It is therefore a great privilege or better, a great gift to be ‘caught’ in this quincentenary moment. There is only one 1521. And only one 2021. This moment is ours as a gift to cherish, to look back and to touch and to hold precious. There will only be one moment in time like this, it is only most fitting that we seize the day, seize the time and celebrate it.
The event is irreplaceable. Historians concur that the first baptism was celebrated here in Cebu last April 14, 1521. It could have been anywhere else, but the truth is that It happened in Cebu. When I was missioned here by God to serve, I have fallen in love with the local church of Cebu and its people. Looking from both perspectives of having been made part of this church, I am deeply appreciative of being here in this point of time. I am also immensely grateful and blessed that in some mysterious way God placed me here. I could be elsewhere or anywhere or not here but there, yet amazingly I am here. Sometimes we yearn for faraway places seeking for meaning only to find out at the end of our journey that it is to be found right where we started. Being here, where the germinal foundation of Christianity happened is such a great blessing. In the plan of God, the local Church of Cebu is irreplaceable. This is not only because the first foundation occurred here but that the mission to spread the faith emanated from right here.
It is irrevocable. Many years ago, when I read ‘Ecclesia in Asia’ and arrived at the text stating the Jesus Christ was born in Asian soil, I dropped the document and shed tears. Perhaps one can blame it to my geographical ignorance of missing the fact that the Holy Land is after all part of the Asian continent, but that for years I have been thinking of Christ as different from my world. To read that He was born in Asian soil, like me, — for the first time, I as an Asian felt closer to him. As a theologian I am overwhelmed with wonder and joy that the mystery of incarnation occurred in Asian soil. Jesus is Asian like me. Now going to our history when our ancestors received the gift of faith here in Cebu, Christianity came to us in the face of the Holy Child, the Sto. Nino. This then in some way became our contact with the reality of the incarnation. This is not only historic but ecclesiologically life giving because the Filipino church was born. Alas, the
epiphany wherein Jesus was revealed to the nations, became concrete for us. Christ is not just born in Asian soil; God has finally arrived in Philippine soil. God is no longer just far. As a Cebuano and ultimately as a Filipino, God is truly close. His irrevocable love has been manifested as our most precious gift and heritage.
So, should we be excited.? Or better still, should our hearts be ignited? Yes, yes yes indeed! For this celebration is celebrating not only our past where we caught the first spark of faith. Above all, it is celebrating who we are and who we are meant to be, ‘faith given and faith giving!’
Loving Father, Sovereign Lord of the ages
Praise and glory be to your name.
When we look back at the past
We marvel at your boundless fidelity and mercy
Written in every strand of our history.
Unworthy though we are
You have gifted us with the fire of faith
brought to our shores five hundred years ago.
As we remember and make present
this graced moment in our lives
where you came to us Filipinos
in the form of a little child, Sto. Nino
We awaken to the wondrous reality
that we have been bestowed the eternal gift
of your love through the Word made Incarnate.
From memory, made alive
may we celebrate this most precious heritage
Let our voices resound through the hills
Let our feet dance as if on fire
Let our spirits soar in joy, for
we have become your own
and you have become one of us!
We ask pardon for blurring our memories
with the mundane pursuit of trivialities in life.
We ask that you clear the cobwebs of our consciousness
and grant us fresh eyes of understanding
of how graced we are!
Let the jubilation generate faith confirmation
so that renewed by your everlasting love
The whole people of God
Clergy, laity and especially the youth.
are transformed for mission.
And our mission lead to the world’s transformation.
For having been gifted
we offer our lives to be given away
In faith, having been ignited
we now to go to set the world on fire! Amen.