A Celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines

WESTPORT—On September 18, 2021, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano celebrated Mass for the Filipino-American community at the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Bridgeport in honor of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and a flower garden in full bloom greeted the faithful into Church. The congregants had quietly piled into Church and there was an air of excitement in anticipation of the blessing of our Lord for another 500 years.

As the congregation settled into their seats and Mass participants reviewed their roles, the Holy Rosary began led by Tessie Senerador of the 2000 Hail Marys Group. Then the children from the Missionary Families of Christ Connecticut choir performed to “We Give Our Yes” with hand gestures and motions, praising God with their tiny, uplifted hands. Soloist, Kirby Asunto, sweetly sang the same song.

When the Mass procession began, smoke and fragrant incense filled the entrance of the church. A young girl, Jada Abille, carried the Santo Niño or Child Jesus and Xavier Abille carried the Magellan wooden cross to the altar before the entrance of priests, altar servers and the Mass celebrants. Reverend Juan Gabriel Acosta, Rev. Cyrus M. Bartolome, Rev. Jose Ignacio Ortigas, and Rev. Justin Cinnante, the concelebrants, preceded Bishop Caggiano and filed onto the altar where a life sized Crucifix of Jesus hovered prominently over all who were gathered. Statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph with Child Jesus, and the Sacred Heart stood beautifully around it and for that day, the Lady of Penafrancia, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Bicol region in the Philippines, also watched over the Mass service.

Bishop Caggiano wore a stunning creamy white chasuble and miter adorned with red ornate embroidery and shiny jewels which was given to him as a gift by the Filipino-American community. In his homily, Bishop Caggiano said that we stand on the shoulders of those who brought Christianity forward through the first 500 years of Philippine history. He added that now is the beginning of the next 500 years and that we have a lot of work to do still. The missionary work must grow even more and continue unabated. He said that although the Spaniards conquered the Philippines 500 years ago, they brought Catholicism which the Filipino people willingly accepted and followed. The Philippines is now the third most populous Catholic country in the world with 90 percent of the population identifying as Catholic. Finally, following the musical theme of the 500th anniversary, Bishop Caggiano repeated too that the Filipinos are “Gifted to Give” their faith back to the world. A pilgrim and migrant people too, they spread the Catholic faith in all the corners of the world in search of a better life for their families.

Father Cyrus Bartolome delivered the Gospel reading. The first reading was given by Lani Gonzales of the Filipino American Association of Western Connecticut. The Responsorial Psalm was sung by Joefel Sanchez of Missionary Families of Christ Connecticut. The prayer of the faithful included petitions for the Universal Church, the Filipino community in Fairfield County, vocations to the priesthood, for the sick, and those who have died. Frank Guzzello, Dory Palma, Elsa Mole, Loriebel Agulay and Leon Egipto recited those petitions. An abundance of inspiring hymnals were sung in Filipino and brought back memories of native Mass in the Philippines. It was a moving presentation. The offering of gifts came from more than a dozen people representing Filipino-Catholic and Filipino-American groups in Fairfield County. The Mass was followed by a reception in the neighboring hall. There the congregation broke into loud, animated laughter and conversation, the Filipino version of toasting. The Holy Spirit and Bishop Caggiano bestowed such a blessing for another 500 years that you can even say the Holy Spirit and the dearly departed servants of God were there rejoicing with us.

By Lani Gonzales