Christianity came to the Philippines with Spanish missionaries 500 years ago, and the indelible mark it has left on Southeast Asia and the world is still being felt today, as Catholic Filipinos continue to practice their faith boldly, both in their home country and those to which they emigrate.

To mark that anniversary and its impact on the Diocese of Trenton with its vibrant Filipino communities and priests, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will celebrate a 10:30 a.m. Mass April 30 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, 61 Georgia Rd., Freehold. Reception will follow in the parish hall.

Father Nillo believes that to Catholic Christian Filipinos, celebrating 500 years of Christianity is a great blessing – particularly because the Philippines is the first Catholic country in Southeast Asia.

“Filipinos bring their faith and teach it wherever they go,” he said. “They are also very proud of their faith; they do not mind practicing it in public. Being able to celebrate this occasion in the Diocese gives all the faithful an opportunity to gather as a Church community to thank God for the arrival of the Roman Catholic faith in the Philippines.”

Indeed, the Diocese of Trenton boasts 22 Catholic Filipino resident priests in active ministry, he pointed out; all of them, including Father Nillo, were born and grew up in the Philippines. More than 800 Roman Catholic Filipino priests are currently serving the Church in the United States.

“Filipinos love celebrating birthdays and anniversaries,” Father Nillo explained, “so this occasion marks the 500th birthday of the Catholic Church in the Philippines… Filipino Catholics are widely known for their devotion to the Blessed Mother, giving birth to various popular Marian titles and devotions.” Those titles include Our Lady of Manaoag in the province of Pangasinan, Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Bicol region, and Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo City.

Other traditions celebrated among Filipinos in the Trenton Diocese brought from the Philippines have their origins in Spanish tradition as well. They include Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May), similar to the May Crowning of Mary, culminating in Santacruzan (Holy Cross), a procession of young ladies dressed as women saints that marks the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine. Also widely practiced is the Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) that takes place each night for the nine days preceding Christmas Day. 

Bishop O’Connell will be joined by Father Mark Nillo, Catholic Chaplain of Monmouth University and parochial vicar in St. Michael Parish, West End. Other priests assisting at the April 30 Mass will be Father Peter J. Alindogan, pastor of St. Veronica Church, Howell; Father Ariel Robles, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton; Father Joe Noche, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, Hainesport; and Father Gene Daguplo, pastor of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton.

Celebrating this 500 year anniversary “means a lot to the Filipino community,” said Father Alindogan. “I think it’s an affirmation of all their efforts, of what we’ve been doing in Trenton,” he said, referring to the many traditions and devotions among Filipinos of the Diocese. “The effort … makes it a real celebration of their faith; without our faith and friendships with other Filipinos, we wouldn’t be able to survive.”

Father Nillo hopes those marking the milestone anniversary experience “a sense of gratitude for being a part of a significant event in the history of the Church; a renewed commitment to living and passing on the faith that has been handed on to us; and the assurance that God will continue to be with His people as they proclaim and share His good news with others.”

For more information, please contact the following priest liaisons:

Father Mark Nillo, 732-788-1747, Coordinator • Father Peter J. Alindogan, 732-725-5977 • Father Ariel Robles, 732-500-4956 • Father Joe Noche, 732-309-0878 • Father Gene Daguplo, 848-448-5187

For monetary donations, please contact the following finance commitees:

Burlington County: Adelina and Troy Beauvais, 609-668-8664 • Mercer County: Marie Lavente, 609-643-3180 • Monmouth County: Noel & Arlene Cabrera, 908-770-1981 • Ocean County: Art & Agnes Monta, 732-600-6110