Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth

Go and make disciples… (Mt. 28:19)

We look forward with gratitude and joy to March 16, 2021, the fifth centenary of the coming of Christianity to our beloved land. We remember with thanksgiving the first Mass celebrated on Limasawa Island on Easter Sunday March 31 that same blessed year. We remember the baptism of Rajah Humabon who was given his Christian name Carlos and his wife Harah Amihan who was baptized Juana in 1521. Our eyes gaze on the Santo Niño de Cebu, the oldest religious icon in the Philippines, gift of Ferdinand Magellan to the first Filipino Catholics that same year. Indeed 2021 will be a year of great jubilee for the Church in the Philippines.

We shall, therefore, embark on a nine-year spiritual journey that will culminate with the great jubilee of 2021. It is a grace-filled event of blessings for the Church starting October 21, 2012 until March 16, 2021.

How providential indeed that on October 21 this year, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will add another Filipino to the canon of Saints of the Church, our very own Visayan proto-martyr Pedro Calungsod, who gave his life for the faith on the morning of April 2, 1672 in Guam.

The canonization of Pedro Calungsod will take place under the brilliant light of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11. This same day also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the commencement of the Year of Faith that will end on November 24, 2013. These events will take place during the celebration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will be held in Rome from October 7 to 28, 2012 on the theme, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”


All these events are bound together by the themes of “faith” and “evangelization”. Evangelization is the proclamation, witness and transmission of the Gospel given to humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the opening up of people’s lives, society, culture and history to the Person of Jesus Christ and to His living community, the Church.

The mission of all of us who are called to take part in the “New Evangelization” is the Church’s own essential mission, as it was the mission of Jesus Himself also. Of this basic truth Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, in his first announcement of the Year of Faith:

“The new evangelizers are called to walk first on this Way that is Christ, to make others know the beauty of the Gospel that gives life. And on this Way, one never walks alone but always in company, an experience of communion and brotherhood that is offered to all those we meet, to share with them our experience of Christ and of his Church. Thus testimony combined with proclamation can open the hearts of those who are seeking the truth so that they are able to arrive at the meaning of their own life.”

Hence, the Pope said that the Year of Faith will be a “moment of grace and commitment for an ever fuller conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in Him, and to proclaim Him with joy to the people of our time.”(Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for the New Evangelization, October 16, 2011).


To better understand the New Evangelization, let us first place it within the comprehensive context of the Church’s mission of Evangelization. “In its precise sense, Evangelization is the missio ad gentes directed to those who do not know Christ. In a wider sense, it is used to describe ordinary pastoral work, while the phrase ‘New Evangelization’ designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, December 3, 2007, 12).

The New Evangelization, therefore, is primarily addressed to the baptized in the Christian West “who are experiencing a new existential and cultural situation, which, in fact, has imperiled their faith and their witness.” This is a situation which Pope Benedict XVI has described as an ‘interior desert’ which “has virtually eliminated any question of God” (XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Instrumentum Laboris, 86). It is a crisis “bearing in itself traces of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, or a generalized indifference toward the Christian faith itself, to the point of attempting to marginalize it from public life” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, May 30, 2011).

But in fact the cultural situation so described applies as well to certain parts of Africa, Asia-Oceania, and South America. Referring to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI observed that the situation in the continent call Christians “to reawaken their enthusiasm for being members of the Church…to live the Good News as individuals, in their families and in society and to proclaim it with fresh zeal to persons near and far” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus 160, 2011).

While the Christian West must deal with the challenge of secularism, materialism, and relativism leading to the abandonment of faith, the same problem to a lesser degree is posed to the “younger Churches,” especially those sectors that are highly influenced by great social and cultural changes. These, too, are “fertile ground for the New Evangelization” (Instrumentum Laboris 89).

More specifically, following the lead of Blessed Pope John Paul II (Redemptoris Missio, 37-38) the New Evangelization has to be directed to the cultural, social, political, economic civic, scientific and technological, communications and religious dimensions of life. All these have been deeply influenced by the globalizing secularist and materialist culture.

The pastoral situation calls on the whole Church, the faithful, to participate in “overcoming the separation of the Gospel from life and reconstructing, in the everyday activities of the home, work and society, the unity of life which finds its inspiration in the Gospel and, in the same Gospel, the strength to realize it fully” (cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici 30, 1988).


Concern with the New Evangelization has been the overall theme of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) in 1991, of the National Mission Congress for the New Millennium (NMC) held in Cebu in September/October 2000, and of the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR) which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sponsored in Manila in 2001. Especially since PCP-II a great number of synods and pastoral assemblies have been established and carried to term in various dioceses. These synods and assemblies called for extensive surveys and studies on “Faith and Church situations” in many sectors of the country. They involved much serious discussions among members, ordained and lay, in Catholic communities on different levels. Reports, summaries of the deliberations and conclusions of these assemblies were sent to the Holy See for review. Religious orders and congregations, and a good number of lay institutes and organizations have also held, on the national level, analogous conferences since PCP-II.

Thus we in the Church in the Philippines come to this program of the “New Evangelization” already with considerable prior extensive and intensive study, reflection, deliberation and resolution. In truth we have been trying to earnestly pursue “renewed evangelization” especially in the last twenty-five years.

This task of New Evangelization calls us to continue more earnestly the initiatives and projects which have been ongoing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are called to examine more deeply the pastoral situation that we all face together as Church in the Philippines. We are asked to explore and discover “the new methods and means for transmitting the Good News” more effectively to our people, always under the guidance of the Spirit. Above all, we are challenged anew to foster in the Church in our country a renewed commitment and enthusiasm in living out the Gospel in all the diverse areas of our lives, in “real-life practice”, challenged anew to become more and more authentic witnesses of our faith, especially to our Asian neighbors!


We need here only to hear again the great commandment for mission, the mission mandate of Christ Jesus himself, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28: 19-20). Indeed the letter to Timothy tells us that “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4). And Paul says that “everyone who invokes the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). But he goes on to point out that no one can come to believe in Jesus Christ if he has not heard the Word of God. But then the message that awakens faith has to be proclaimed by messengers sent out for the task. “So then, faith comes from hearing the message and the message comes through preaching Christ” (Rom 10:17)

Vatican II taught us that “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature” (LG 2). The Church exists out of her faith in Jesus the Word incarnate sent by the Father, a faith generated by the Holy Spirit. And the Church exists in order to bring the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to all people under the guidance of the same Spirit. The missionary mandate of the Church, however has assumed new forms and methods in the history of the Church, depending on situations and historical moments.

After the 1974 Synod of Bishops that was devoted to Evangelization in the Modern World, we heard from Pope Paul VI in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi issued in 1975 the immortal words, “For the Church evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new” (EN 18). So the Church’s evangelizing mission, as always but more so in our contemporary time, should not only cover wider geographic areas but also people’s criteria for judgment, values, points of interest, mindsets, and lifestyles (EN 19). In other words, evangelization must affect and transform the newly emerging cultures.

At that time Paul VI was already aware that “the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times” (EN 20). PCP II called it the dichotomy between faith and ordinary life. Blessed Pope John Paul II has constantly repeated this basic insight in his call for a New Evangelization. The Church, in complete fidelity to the Gospel and Tradition, cannot “simply appeal to its former Christian heritage” but must discover how to conform herself “with the person and message of Jesus” in changing cultures (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa 2, 2003). He invites us to a New Evangelization: “new in its ardor, methods and expressions” (John Paul II, Discourse to XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port au Prince, 1983). The New Evangelization was in fact the common theme of the continental Synods that helped prepare the Church for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 (see John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia 29). For his part Pope Benedict XVI humbly admits that faith can no longer be taken as “a self-evident presupposition for life in society” in our changed and changing cultures (Benedict XVI, Porta fidei 2, 2011). So by calling for a Year of Faith he invites the Church to profess, celebrate and transmit her faith in cultural contexts that have become indifferent or even hostile to the faith.

The New Evangelization, therefore, appeals to the Church to muster her spiritual energy received from the Word and the Spirit in order to discover in diverse cultural settings the signs of hope and action of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the Church must be cognizant of the new cultural situations that call on her “to look at the way she lives and transmits the faith” (Instrumentum Laboris 49).

The Church in the Philippines will heed the call.


As we initiate concrete activities in pursuit of the New Evangelization at this time, four ‘areas’ or ‘dimensions’ of concern are opened up for us:

First, the intensification of promoting missio ad gentes in all our communities, among our lay people, our priests and seminarians, and men and women in consecrated life. Post-World War II Roman Pontiffs have insisted that the Church in the Philippines has a clear “missionary vocation” given by divine providence by reasons of history, of geographical location, of the presence of Filipino Christians in so many ‘non-evangelized’ regions of the world. In all of human history it is today that the number of those who have never met Jesus Christ or heard His Gospel is perhaps at its highest level. How imperative and how urgent it is then that Jesus and His Gospel be made known, and His truth and way of life be witnessed to by us to whom 500 years ago the Christian Faith was given as gift!

Secondly, in our part of the world all evangelization must keep in mind the imperative of “bringing Good News to the poor” (pauperes evangelizantur). This holds true of all evangelization, but it has a special relevance and urgency for us and our Filipino “missionary vocation”. We are still a long way from the vision to becoming in truth a “church of the poor”—committed to struggle to bring down poverty among our people, committed to striving to do all we can to help bring about “a civilization of justice and love”.

Thirdly, we must reach out to the many Catholics whose faith-knowledge and faith-practice have been largely eroded and even lost. We have to reach out to former Catholics who have drifted from the Church due to scandals, hurts, unresolved confusions and doubts as well as to Catholics who have in fact turned to other religions and religious traditions. We must counteract the creeping effects of glorified moral relativism and secularism now eating up our people. We must protect the youth from the attraction of individualistic sects that ignore all communitarian norms.

Lastly, we must renew our attention and zeal toward the reawakening, fuller formation and animation of young people and youth groups, in both urban and rural settings. The Philippines is a country of the Young. We cannot insist enough how important and significant, how urgent and crucial the evangelization of our youth is. This, indeed, is priority pastoral task.


As we initiate concrete activities of the New Evangelization, we need to emphasize the absolute necessity of three overriding faith imperatives for evangelizing efforts to be fruitful.

First, the centrality of the Eucharist. For if “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “is also the fount from which all power flows,” it is “especially from the Eucharist” that “grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10). The grace that radiates from the Eucharist has to accompany all our evangelizing efforts.

Second, the necessity of Prayer. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the main agent of evangelization. Every evangelizer, therefore, has to be led and driven by the Spirit, even as Jesus was in His proclaiming of the Kingdom of God (see Lk. 3:22; 4:1,14). And it is through prayer that we are able to listen to the Holy Spirit and do his bidding. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to call on God, Abba. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and tell His story to others. In our context, our people’s fidelity to prayer through religious devotions and practices – through their popular religiosity and piety – is an enduring witness to their acceptance of the Good News of Jesus. Hence, the New Evangelization has to be accompanied by prayer and contemplation. We are called to rekindle the spirit and practice of prayer among us and foster a renewal of popular religiosity and piety in its different forms and practices.

Third, the necessity of Conversion. The journey to discipleship in Christ begins with conversion, a deep metanoia, a change of mind and heart. Conversion into discipleship leads to telling the story of Jesus as one has seen him, heard him, and touched him in the core of one’s heart. Jesus our Lord of Divine Mercy is a testimony that no evangelization can be fruitful without conversion. “Repent and believe in the Gospel” were the first words of Jesus in his public ministry as recorded by Mark. As Church, all the faithful, and especially we as Pastors, should recognize and confess our own “mea culpas,” and our failures to evangelize credibly and effectively.

With these postulates of the New Evangelization, we respond to the call of the Spirit for a New Evangelization by focusing on the Nine Pastoral Priorities of the Church in the Philippines as the key themes over a nine-year period.

Year 2013: Integral Faith Formation. What a blessing it is that this first pastoral priority coincides with this Year of Faith as declared by the Holy Father! Our pastoral concern goes out to the great many whose faith hardly plays a significant role in daily private and public life. We reach out during this year to those who have drifted away from the Christian faith. We note with sadness the erosion of the faith and our need for true conversion. The Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Catechism for Filipino Catholics will be fundamental references of the New Evangelization. This is the year of San Pedro Calungsod, who with San Lorenzo Ruiz, provides an exemplary model for the mission of the Church in the Philippines. Integral Faith Formation will focus on the “12 articles of Faith” found in the Apostles Creed. Faith Formation has one objective: a more intimate relationship between Jesus and his followers. Blessed John Paul uses the three phrases: evangelization with “new methods, new expressions, and new fervor.” In the end, the Church follows the way of holiness through conversion and discipleship.

Year 2014: Laity. This year especially celebrates both the sacrament of Baptism by which all the faithful become God’s sons and daughters and the sacrament of Confirmation by which they become witnesses of Christ to others. Yet the gifts of the Holy Spirit through these sacraments often remain dormant. This year is to be devoted to the renewal of the laity, to their “empowerment” or more accurately to activating their charisms from the Spirit, so that they may indeed take up their role as co-responsible agents of evangelization and lead in the task of social transformation. In this regard, of paramount global importance is the ecological challenge of climate change.

Year 2015: The Poor. This year is dedicated to committing ourselves more firmly to our vision of becoming truly a Church of the Poor. The new evangelization is also a powerful call from the Lord to follow in His footsteps to be evangelically poor. How far have we journeyed to our vision of Church? How shall we assist the materially poor to face the challenges of hunger and poverty, of globalization and climate change? And together with them eradicate the evil of corruption and the economic and political imbalances of our society? At the same time we realize that the materially poor in our midst have the God-given power to tell the story of the poor Christ who by His poverty liberates and enriches us. The whole Church, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, have to be in solidarity in the work of restoring integrity and truth, justice and peace – love – in our benighted land.

Year 2016: The Eucharist and of the Family. This is a year of great blessing for us. The Holy Father has chosen Cebu as the host of the Fifty-first International Eucharistic Congress. We will focus our pastoral action on making the Eucharist better appreciated and its missionary implication better lived by the Catholic faithful. We shall especially emphasize on forming the Filipino Family as a Eucharistic community of parents and children, true to its name as a domestic church, rooted in the Eucharist. An evangelized family is an evangelizing family. Even as it is increasingly besieged by secularist values, the Family, as PCP-II has said, is “the focal point of evangelization.” We shall intensify our efforts to strengthen marriage and the family and to protect them from ideas and values that destroy them.

Year 2017: The Parish as a Communion of Communities. This is a year when we more deeply discern not only the structures of governance of our dioceses and parishes but also of the quality of faith life in the parish, the fellowship, belongingness, and participation experienced by its members. In a special way we shall probe into our efforts of making the parish a communion of communities, a communion of Basic Ecclesial Communities and of covenanted faith-communities and ecclesial movements. We shall discern and implement measures on how communities of consecrated life may be more integrated into the life and mission of the parish. In brief, our focus will be the building of a parish that is truly a faith community immersed in the lives of its people.

Year 2018: Clergy and Religious. In our culture, clergy and religious are the key to the New Evangelization. Yet they are not immune to the twin errors of a dichotomy of faith and inadequate discipleship of Christ. This is a year dedicated to the integral renewal of the values, mind-sets, behavior, and life-styles of the clergy and religious. The aim is to become servant-leaders in the manner of the Good Shepherd, live the spirit of the evangelical counsels and be authentic prophets of the Good News of Jesus and of the Kingdom. It will be a year, too, of revisiting ways of seminary and religious formation, of on-going formation, and of the collaboration of the laity in these crucial approaches to integral growth and development in view of mission and ministry.

Year 2019: Youth. It is often said that the youth are the future of the Church. The youth are in fact the present of the Church. They are its most numerous members. They inspire us by their active participation in society and in the Church. The involvement of hundreds of thousands of young people in the various activities of evangelization and social transformation is a call to greater participation in the Church. “New methods, new expressions and new fervor” of evangelization are imperative. We shall invite the youth to discern deeply their vocation in the world and in the Church, especially the Lord’s invitation to them to the priestly and religious life. How we, as Church, respond to the aspirations of the youth will shape the third millennium.

Year 2020: Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue. Different faiths and religions are a formidable challenge to a nation that strives to be a community, a human family, a unity in diversity. This year will be devoted to exploring new ways of being community through ecumenical and inter-religious relationships and action. Caritas in veritate, open, honest, respectful – loving – dialogue of life, prayer and action is the only way towards community. At stake are the great values of peace and harmony, particularly in areas of armed conflict, solidarity in the struggle for social change, unity in healing social ills, integrity and social justice in our land.

Year 2021: Missio ad gentes. We are indeed proud that so many of the Filipino faithful (laity, priests, and religious) are missionaries in all the continents of the world. It is the duty of faith in Christ to tell his story to others, especially to those who have not sufficiently heard of him. Even as we are deeply inspired by the stories of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) witnessing to their faith in “ad gentes” regions as well as in highly secularized countries, we need to explore new ways of assisting them as evangelizers. We have been challenged by Blessed John Paul to become the “foremost missionaries” in Asia. This year will be devoted to how we are fulfilling that vocation, how a mission-consciousness in all the faithful can be formed, how each one can be animated into becoming a missionary even at home, and more concretely how parishes and dioceses are supporting our own Philippine-Mission Society.


As we launch this nine-year period of New Evangelization for the Church in the Philippines, let us listen to the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

Today the world needs people who proclaim and testify that it is Christ Jesus who teaches the art of living, the way of true happiness, because he himself is the path of life; people who first of all keep their own gaze fixed on Jesus, the Son of God: the word of proclamation must always be immersed in an intense relationship with him, in the intense life of prayer. Today’s world needs people who speak to God, so as to be able to speak of God. And we must always remember that Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words or ostentatious means but with His suffering and His death.

The law of the grain of wheat that dies in the ground also applies today; we cannot give life to others without giving our own life: “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it,” the Lord tells us (Mark 8:35) …. It is only through men and women molded in God’s presence that the word of God will continue its journey in the world, bearing its fruit.

Dear friends, being evangelizers is not a privilege but a commitment that comes from faith …. Thus I ask you to let yourselves be formed by God’s grace and to respond in docility to the action of the Spirit of the Risen One. Be signs of hope…. Communicate the joy of faith to all with the enthusiasm that comes from being driven by the Holy Spirit, because he makes all things new.(Rev 21:5), trusting in the promise that Jesus made to the Church: “And lo, I am with you always, to the ending of time!” (Mt. 28:20) [Pope Benedict XVI Address on the New Evangelization, Rome 15 October 2011].

Beloved People of God, we invite you to pray and reflect on what the New Evangelization asks of all of us, from each of us. The Lord of History, without any merits of our own, first gave the priceless gift of the Christian faith to our people and our land, – nearly 500 years ago. Each year, in our own “uniquely Filipino” novena before Christmas Day, our ‘Misa de Gallo’ novena, we thank God’s goodness for this gift of faith, and beg for grace that our people may persevere in it.

In the face of pervasive secularism and materialism, in the midst of billions who have not truly encountered Jesus Christ nor heard of His Gospel, how challenged we must be to embark on the New Evangelization! How can we not want to share Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life with those who are yet to know and love Him who is the answer to the restlessness of every human heart?

In this Year of Faith and throughout the nine-year period of special New Evangelization – and beyond – let us celebrate our faith. Live Christ, Share Christ!

May our Lady, Mary Mother of Our Lord and the Star of Evangelization intercede for us and guide us in sharing Christ, our Emmanuel, God-with-us now and forever.

Maranatha, AMEN.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,


Archbishop of Cebu

President, CBCP

July 23, 2012