‘Gifted to Give’: Archdiocese of Oakland celebrates 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines

Organizers surprised Bishop Gordon with two check donations – a $50,000 check for the Oakland Diocesan Retreat House, and a $10,000 check for the Humanitarian Relief fund for Ukraine. | Photos courtesy of Esther Misa Chavez

SAN RAMON – It has been over 500 years since the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, under the banner of the Spanish King Carlos, shared his faith with the tribal King Humabon of Cebu and over 2,200 of his followers in 1521.

Since then, the Catholic faith has spread throughout the Philippine archipelago composed of 7,701 islands. Today, 8 out of 10 of 112,273,356 Filipinos (as of May 2022), or 87%, are Catholics. It is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia, and third largest in the world after Brazil and Mexico. Due to political and economic reasons, there are now 12 million Filipinos spread throughout the world – carrying with them their strong faith.

It is said that Filipino expats in Europe, Middle East, the United States and elsewhere fill Catholic Churches that have been losing parishioners through migrations of their own. And Filipino priests have been following and servicing the spiritual needs of their flock across these nations. Fr. Carl Arcosa, Diocesan, Director for Vocations, said that in the Oakland Diocese alone, there are 15 to 17 Filipino priests and around 200,000 Filipino families. With this many Filipinos, the iconic Filipino tradition of the “Simbang Gabi” (nine dawn masses in anticipation of Christmas) is now being celebrated in 30 of the 82 parishes in the diocese.

Bishop Michael Gordon, SJ, holding a miniature bronze statue of the Sto. Niño de Cebu.

Bishop Michael C. Gordon, SJ of the Oakland Diocese has this to say, “500 years of the Catholic faith coming to the Philippines is a great testament to the faith of the Filipino people that they accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it took deep root. Filipino Catholics, priests and sisters have gone throughout the whole world and kept the faith alive in every place including Oakland and San Francisco. So, it’s really a great testament to their missionary zeal and fidelity to Christ. They brought their faith and handed them down to their families, to their children and their faith continues to grow because of the fidelity of Filipino Catholics.”

“Gifted to Give” 

The generosity of the over 500 guests at the event which were mostly Filipinos, raised over $60,000 at this gala. The organizers surprised Bishop Gordon with a check in the amount of $50,000 as donation to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland for the Diocesan Retreat Center, and $10,000 for Humanitarian Assistance for Ukraine.

Five years in the making

Fr. Erick Villa, SJ, Parish Priest of St. Raymond Parish of San Ramon, and organizer of the celebration, wrote this in their invitation, “After a series of symposia, fellowship and liturgies, the past five years, all roads lead to this colorful event that will be filled with conversations, culture, food, dancing, and memories to treasure for generations to come!”

A short precession preceded the gala with Ms Philippines Tourism USA Bianca Tapia as Reyna Elena. Her escorts, carrying the flowered arc, are Deacon Paul Abenoja of St. Mary Magdalen Church and Deacon Fred Seril of St. Raymond Parish.

True enough, prior to the doors opening for the gala festivities at the San Ramon Marriott, last April 30, 2022, there were three food stations each loaded with a whole lechon, veggie lumpia and lumpiang Shanghai. A Sinulog parade preceded the dinner reception, with the “Reyna Elena,” Ms. Philippines USA Tourism Bianca Tapia, carrying a small bronze image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu, which was then enthroned at the ceremonial arc on stage.

As any formal Filipino affair, a Rigodon de Honor was presented headed by Deacon Rey and Rose Encarnacion of St. Agnes Parish Concord, Geof and Pat Saturnino, Alex and Ler Paras of Holy Spirit Parish, Fremont; and Helen Cabiles and Johnny Veloso of St. Anne Parish, Union City.

There were Folk dances from the Mabuhay Folklorico Society and patriotic songs by Ariel Mayormita of St. Joaquim Parish, and Fr. Theodbriel (Bong) R. Villariza, Jr., St. Michael Church, Livermore. Most of the guests wore their beautiful regional Filipino attire.

Noel Panlilio, California State Council Knight of Columbus, said that the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines is a “…manifestation of our faith.”

Indeed, it was an evening of giving, not only culturally, but spiritually. Before the evening ended, each of the over 500 guests were given a miniature bronze image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu blessed by Bishop Gordon. Before the distribution of the image, Fr. Villa prayed, “Grant us the grace that we need to continue Your mission.” (Esther Misa Chavez)

The Filipino-American Community Newspaper. Your News. Your Community. Your Journal. Since 1991.

Copyright © 1991-2022 Asian Journal Media Group. All Rights Reserved.