Archdiocese of Newark celebrates 500 years of Christianity in the PHL: ‘We’re the missionaries’

Hermana and Hermano Mayor community leader Dely Go and husband Harry Go Sr. seen here with Bergenfield Mayor Arvin Amatorio at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

The Archdiocese of Newark’s year-long celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines concluded with a cultural procession and joyous mass at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on May 1.

Filipinos in traditional attire were in attendance.

The festivities began with a massive procession meant to embody the pageantry that is a hallmark of Filipino Catholic worship. This procession will include parishioners from each of the Archdiocese’s four counties — Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union — who will walk in carrying items representing some of the Philippines’ many Catholic traditions like Simbang Gabi and the Sinulog-Santo Niño Festival. Additionally, 500 children will offer flowers to the Blessed Virgin Mary in honor of the Flores de Mayo devotion held each May.

Following the procession, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., archbishop of Newark, presided over a liturgy commemorating the first mass celebrated in the Philippines on March 31, 1521. This liturgy featured performances from the 130-member Filipino Apostolate choir, which sang significant songs from Filipino Catholic history.  

Children carrying flowers during a procession at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Photo: Mitsu Tasukawa/

“It is very important to celebrate the 500th anniversary because our faith is a central part of our lives,” said Father JM Manolo A. Punzalan, director of the archdiocesan Filipino Apostolate, in reference to the fact that the most recent Pew Research Center statistics showed 81 percent of Filipinos identify as Catholic. “You can go to a church anywhere in the world and find Filipinos there. We’re very active in the Church because we were gifted with our faith, and now we want to share it with everyone. We were a mission area, and now we’re the missionaries. That’s a reason to celebrate.”

The Archdiocese’s year-long celebration launched on the actual 500th anniversary of the Gospel’s arrival in the Philippines — March 31, 2021 — with a commemorative Mass at St. Joseph Church in Lodi, followed by a Jubilee Mass at St. Aloysius Church in Jersey City that April.

Hundreds of Filipino Catholics then followed a replica of the Jubilee Cross, which Ferdinand Magellan erected at the Philippines’ first Mass, as it traveled to parishes throughout the Archdiocese every month for the past year. Along the way, those who participated in the pilgrimage experienced a different Filipino faith tradition at each host church. 

A replica of the Jubilee Cross traveled to parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Newark as part of the year-long celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. Photo: Archdiocese of Newark

And now that the once-dormant Filipino Apostolate has been revived under Father Punzalan’s leadership, there will be many more opportunities to unite the Filipino Catholic community.

“Filipinos have our own brand of Catholicism,” Father Punzalan said. “We have a lot of religious traditions and popular piety that are not in many American churches. So, we needed to bring back the Apostolate because we needed an organization that will make sure the Filipinos’ faith and spirituality are being acknowledged. We’re not making a separate Church from the Archdiocese; we’re actually looking to enhance how Filipinos live their parish life by encouraging them to become more active.”

There are an estimated 67,740 Filipinos living within the Archdiocese of Newark, according to 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data. The Filipino Apostolate aims to connect those who are Catholic through spiritual programs, fun gatherings, and social justice initiatives. To learn more about the Apostolate, visit its Facebook page.

The Archdiocese of Newark, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., the sixth archbishop of Newark, serves approximately 1.3 million Catholics in 212 parishes and 73 schools throughout the counties of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union. The archdiocese serves the northern New Jersey community through faith, education, and social services. To learn more, visit

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