By Mgr Daniel McHugh, Co-ordinator of Ethnic Chaplaincies, Eparchies and Missions in the Archdiocese.

On Friday 8 July Filipino Catholics were led in celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines by Archbishop Bernard Longley.

It was a wonderful gathering of Filipinos in Corpus Christi Church, Stechford, organised by Father Fretch Ballesteros, Chaplain to the Filipino Community in Birmingham, Father Vitalis Barik, Parish Priest of Corpus Christi, and Monsignor Daniel McHugh, Co-ordinator of Ethnic Chaplaincies, Eparchies and Missions in the Archdiocese.

The celebration of 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines was a unique opportunity to look to the sowing of the Faith back home by missionary friars in 1521; to reflect on the growth of the Faith leading to the Philippines being the third largest Catholic country in the world with 110 million faithful across 7,000 islands, and 10 million Filipinos in the Diaspora; and to recall the foundation and growth of the Catholic Filipino Chaplaincy here in the Archdiocese.

The Chaplaincy started with monthly Mass at St Brigid’s, Northfield, in 2005 and has been served by a number of different priests since that time. More recently, it was Augustinian Filipino Priests from St Mary’s, Harborne, who celebrated the Mass.

Marites, a lay leader, spoke of their ongoing pastoral support even though they had moved to Hammersmith in London that mattered so much in the time of the pandemic: They had livestreamed Masses; communicated through messaging and prayed with people in time of sickness in those lonely times. The pandemic also led to greater community use of the internet and the growth of Prayer and Rosary Groups.

Marites pointed to the support the Chaplaincy was to Filipino Faith and Culture through use of their music and song; their own language, Tagalog; and special occasions such as Masses at night before Christmas – Simbang Gabi. Social gathering after Mass with people bringing traditional food to share, was an important element in keeping Filipinos connected to the Church and Faith too.

The celebration brought the year-long 500 years celebration entitled “Gifted to Give” to a close in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, with new impetus for the future.

Mgr Daniel McHugh, in his Homily, said “The Filipino people will come to reflect more deeply the riches of the Faith they have been given and will be strengthened in their wish to hand on their Faith and Culture to their families.

“We in the wider Church give thanks for their presence among us and with you, we give thanks for your “compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience” which we have experienced, especially in hospitals and in our parishes. However, we need a bit more of your joy in our Liturgy: I missed it when you were not represented at the Intercultural Mass in Coventry this last year!”

Father Fretch looks forward to continuing the monthly Chaplaincy Mass in St Brigid’s, Northfield, (thanking Father Rogerson who hosts the Mass there): a regular monthly Mass in Corpus Christi and a monthly Mass in St Thomas of Canterbury, Walsall.

Archbishop Bernard spent a happy evening with the Filipino Chaplaincy, thanking all involved for their important contribution to the life of the Church.

Photo Gallery by Con McHugh

500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines