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500 years of Christianity and the ships of faith

My early grasp of the history of Christianity in the Philippines at a young age can perhaps be traced to the popular “Magellan” song of fellow Boholano Yoyoy Villame.

“On March 16, 1521. When Philippines was discovered by Magellan. They were sailing day and night across the big ocean. Until they saw a small Limasawa island.”

“Magellan” was Villame’s first recording in 1972 that became the top-selling record in the Visayas-Mindanao region. The song narrated the arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the country in 1521.

Villame was a native of Calape, Bohol, and was the youngest of 10 children of a fisherman father and fish seller mother.

He blended Filipino folk melodies, popular tunes and nursery rhymes for his music and then added a mix of witty Tagalog, Cebuano and English comedic lyrics.

“When Magellan landed in Cebu City. Rajah Humabon met him, they were very happy. All people were baptized and built the church of Christ. And that’s the beginning of our Catholic life.”

Christianity was brought to the Philippines in 1521 when Magellan landed on the small island of Limasawa in Cebu.

Magellan was heading a Spanish expedition in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia.

On March 31, 1521, the first Mass was celebrated where some 800 were baptized, including Rajah Humabon, to form the first Catholic community.

The Sto. Niño de Cebu became the oldest Christian artifact in the Philippines as a gift from Magellan to Rajah Humabon on account of their baptism. Unfortunately, Magellan was killed a month later during the Mactan battle led by Lapu-Lapu.

The Philippine archipelago, which was named after King Philip II, became a colony of Spain until 1898.

After Brazil and Mexico, the Philippines is the third largest Catholic population in the world with some 76 million Catholics, or about 81 percent of the country’s total population.

Pope Francis called on Filipinos to renew their commitment to Christ as missionary disciple during the mass he celebrated last Sunday at the Vatican to mark Christianity’s quincentenary in the Philippines.

He urged Filipinos to persevere in the work of evangelization, as “the Gospel message of God’s closeness must be constantly proclaimed to others, so that none might perish.”

“Never be afraid to proclaim the Gospel, to serve and to love,” the Pope said. “With your joy, you will help people to say of the Church too: ‘she so loved the world!’”

Part of the logo released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is a ship that signifies the navigators of the expedition that brought the faith in the country.

A traditional symbolic meaning of the ship is that the church is a means of conveyance between this world and the next.

In Christian tradition, in which earthly life is seen as a pilgrimage, the ship of the church transports the faithful through the seas of the world to the heavenly home.

The boat is often used to portray the church as a vessel of salvation like in the story of Noah’s Ark and Christ’s voyage on the Sea of Galilee.

The church ferries its cherished cargo of souls through the troubled seas of worldly temptation, unfaithfulness, and ill treatment to finally reach its safe harbor on heaven’s shores.

In an era of beliefs in sea monsters and a flat earth that one could sail right off the edge, it took courage for ancient mariners to set sail in boats as they had to trust in God and in each other.

Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Tagle earlier said that Filipino seafarers are “saint potentials.”

Referring to Saint Lorenzo Ruiz and San Pedro Calungsod, Tagle noted that they were seafarers and missionaries at the same time before they became saints who sailed to other countries and died for a mission: “To teach the Good News.”

Tagle underscored that the pain brought by separation is a sign of the seafarer’s love, strength, and faith for the good of his family and the country.

“Even if you feel pain when you leave your family and your country, that suffering is not a reason for you to be ‘paralyzed,’ but it will inspire you to strive for more,” said Tagle, adding that their hardships will not weaken them but make them even stronger.

For the ordinary seafarers, religion offers strength, hope and peace in relation with their daily work and social relationships on board the vessel.

Despite its glorification due to economic returns, the job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park.

The maritime profession has always been identified as a high-risk workplace replete with health and safety hazards in relation to the risks of accidents, illnesses and mortality.

Religion assists seafarers in coping with dangerous and emotionally challenging workplaces.

The estimated 519,031 deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019—per POEA data—remitted $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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