Judging by the numbers that turned out, last week’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines at a national shrine in Middletown was a testament to the strong faith of Filipino Catholics.
Archbishop Charles Brown, a New Yorker who is the papal nuncio to the Philippines, called the Pacific island nation “a powerhouse of faith” as he celebrated the special Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“You’ve been gifted to give,” he said in a homily that day.
Yes, they have. And the metro area’s large and long-established Filipino community has been giving to others for quite some time. They’re well represented in the health care and helping professions, and in that way are sharing their faith as well.
In the words of Archbishop Brown, Filipino Catholics evangelize “by the way we live, by the way we treat other people,” radiating a faith that reaches and converts.
We’ve been lucky as a Church and a community for the positive presence of the Filipino community, and for the presence of the many ethnic and racial communities that make up our New York mosaic.
It’s dizzying at times to think about, but Masses and other services are offered in churches around the archdiocese in more than 35 different languages and dialects.
Not surprisingly, the largest number of “language services,” as they’re known, are offered in Spanish, which is by far the largest language group here. But there, too, it’s a diverse population, with people from places as different from one another as Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Argentina.
Italian Catholics began arriving in New York more than 125 years ago, but are still a major presence with the number of Italian language Masses second only to Spanish—although something of a distant second.
Today, we have parishes where the largest group of parishioners are Ghanaian, parishes with large populations of Chinese people, and at least one parish in the Bronx where Mass is celebrated in Garifuna, the language of many Hondurans, and two—one in Manhattan and one in the Bronx—where Mass is offered in Vietnamese.
Even the ancient Irish language of Gaelic is available for services at St. Agnes in Manhattan, a midtown Manhattan parish that also offers regular Masses in another ancient tongue: Latin.
You get the picture.
Most of us are aware on some level that New York has long been a destination for peoples from around the world. Certainly, we see the cultural diversity all around us in the people we see on the street, the languages we hear spoken around us, the array of ethnic restaurants that are available.
We’re proud that the archdiocese has responded to this diversity with outreach programs and ministries, and sought to welcome everyone into the Church’s embrace.
After all, the word “catholic” means, literally, wide-ranging, universal and all-embracing.
“This is the essence, the foundation of our Catholic faith,” said Archbishop Brown, in his remarks to the Filipinos.
Yes, it is.
And we join the archbishop, Pope Francis, and the entire Catholic world in celebrating with our Filipino sisters and brothers the gift of that faith that has nurtured and sustained them for 500 years.