Pope Francis received an unexpected gift from the Filipino Christian World Community when he celebrated mass on 14 March 2021 at 10:00 AM (Rome time) (5:00 PM Manila time), at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica, to commemorate the 500th Year of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines.

Among the 10 concelebrants was His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (Prefect, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples). The Philippines is the world’s third largest Catholic country (after Brazil and Mexico) and has the largest number of English-speaking Catholics. Some 60% of Asian Catholics are Filipinos.

In his Homily during the mass, the Holy Father celebrated the joy the Filipinos have brought and continue to bring to the world through their Christian Faith.

“Dear brothers and sisters, five hundred years have passed since the Christian message first arrived in the Philippines. You received the joy of the Gospel: the good news that God so loved us that he gave his Son for us. And this joy is evident in your people. We see it in your eyes, on your faces, in your songs and in your prayers. In the joy with which you bring your faith to other lands.”

“I have often said that here in Rome Filipino women are smugglers of faith! Because wherever they go to work, they sow the faith. It is part of your genes, a blessed infectiousness that I urge you to preserve. Keeping bringing the faith, the good news you received 500 years ago, to others.”

“I want to thank you, then, for the joy you bring to the whole world and to our Christian communities. I think, as I mentioned, of the many beautiful experiences in families here in Rome – but also throughout the world – where your discreet and hardworking presence became a testimony of faith. In the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, for God loves to bring the joy of faith through humble, hidden, courageous and persevering service.”

In response, Cardinal Tagle attributed the joy the Filipinos bring to the world through their Christian faith which majority of Filipinos have embraced and imbued with a Filipino character, as a gift from God.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle addresses a message to Pope Francis during a mass to mark 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, March 14, 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via REUTERS

“The coming of the Christian faith to our land is God’s gift. That the Christian faith was received by majority of our people and given by them a Filipino character is God’s gift,” Cardinal Tagle said in his message to Pope Francis during the mass.“Now the Philippines has the third largest number of Catholics in the world. This is truly God’s gift. We attribute the enduring faith of the Filipino people only to God’s love, mercy, and fidelity, not to any merit of our own.”

In a photo feature from Hugot Seminarista, Fr. Ricky Gente, Chaplain of the Sentro Filippino Roma,
disclosed that a family gifted Pope Francis with a painting celebrating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in behalf of all Filipino Christians the world over.

Originally an entry to the recently concluded Quincentennial Painting Competition, the painting by Cagayan de Oro-based artist Ryan Aristotle A. Carreon  shows Ferdinand Magellan presenting an image of Sto. Niño to Hara Humanay (Doña Juana) after the latter was baptized.

“My entry aims to give fresh/new visual representations to key events in the Philippines on 1521 using existing narratives and recent findings by modern scholars/historians,” Carreon said in a post describing his paining on his social media account.

Then, unknowingly gazing into the future, he continued: “It would mean the world to me if the Holy Father in Rome gets to see/hold a picture of this work one day, and see how the love affair of the Cebuanos to the icon of the Infant Jesus began 500 years ago.”

Though his entry didn’t win the competition, by a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Carreon got to see his wish come true when his painting was presented to the pope following the March 14 Holy Mass celebrating the 500 years of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines.

“This is a gift to the Pope made possible by some generous donors who acquired the work in behalf of the Filipino Catholic Christians across the globe –in celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines,” Carreon said.

“I thank the Lord for blessing me with a generous group of friends who made this childhood dream come into reality. From the donors who prefer to remain anonymous, and friends who helped me do all the necessary preparations for the turnover. and to Msgr. Limchua and Fr . Gente for this wonderful opportunity, maraming salamat po.”

Remarked Carreon’s friend Lionel Dosdos, “Truly, this is the meaning of God working in mysterious ways, the painting wasn’t meant to win the art competition because it was meant for a greater purpose.  Congratulations again Ryan Carreón Aragón!!!”

Eyewitnesses said the Pope was delighted with the painting and remarked, “Bello e impressionante!” (Beautiful and impressive!).

The nun who handed the painting to Pope Francis explained to him the context of the illustration as well as its description inscribed in the back personally by Carreon.

According to Carreon’s social media post describing the painting, some historians have inferred that the presentation of the icon of the Infant Jesus to Hara Humanay (Doña Juana) was more of a private event than the festive ceremony that some attribute to the origin of Cebu’s famous Sinulog Festival.

This is explicitly described in the account of Magellan’s Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta who wrote that there were eyewitnesses to this event since it happened during one of the morning masses that were held in Cebu on 1521 which the queen attended.

Carreon further said it is a common misconception that the queen was given the image of Sto. Niño on the day of her baptism.

“Yes, she was shown 3 religious images but that’s actually part of her introduction to Christianity (Catechism), and if these are all meant to be given as gifts, the Captain General would have given them to her right there and then, but he did not. In fact, the queen had to beg for the beautifully dressed image of the Sto Nino on top the altar, together with the other icons believed to be the busto of the Ecce Homo and the Virgen de la Cotta.”

Religious icons like these are visual representations of some biblical texts and were used as visual aids by the early missionaries to indoctrinate those who can’t read, write, and understand Latin.

“I thought it’s about time ( since we’re celebrating the Quincentennial of Christianity in the Philippines) that the two other icons are given recognition after being hidden for many years. That’s our work and contribution as artists, to fill in the gaps with visual narratives in areas of our history that are vague or needs update,” the artist added.

Carreon is best known in Cagayan de Oro as the artist who did the drawings for the now Church of the Inmaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (Xavier Ateneo) while still a third year undergraduate student in Development Communication at  the XU College of Agriculture.

The artist Ryan Aristotle Aragon Carreon with another of his works, the “Mary’s Windows” stained glass windows in the Inmaculate Conception Church of the VIrgin Mary at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in Cagayan de Oro CIty.

Known as “Mary’s Windows” the stained glass windows project was jointly undertaken by then Xavier Ateneo President Fr. Ting Samson, S.J. and Roland Peter Kraut of Kraut Art Glass. You can read more about Mary’s Windows by clicking here.

Fr. Samson was greatly impressed with  a water color painting of a Filipina Madonna and Child done by Carreon  exhibited at a Circulo de Arte affair at Xavier University in 2002.

The Artist Ryan Aristotle Aragon Carreon

The artist traces his penchant for religious paintings and iconography to his early childhood in Malabon where a cousin would bring him to the Sacred Heart Church in Tugatog, where he recalls drawing a figure of the Virgin Mary with a black pencil when he was two or three years old.

Although he often doodled through the years, it was not until 1994 when Carreon joined a Munting Daliri workshop where he began to learn how to handle water color, pastel and even oil. 

Before the family moved to Cagayan de Oro City in 1994, he visited Sto. Domingo Church (the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Naval), in Quezon City where he enjoyed the huge stained glass windows by National Artist, modernist Galo Ocampo.  “I was twelve at that time, just sitting there, and dreaming, ‘One day, gagawa ako ng ganyan!”

After Carreon was chosen to paint the drawings for the stained glass windows at the XU Chapel, Fr. Samson brought him to Manila to look at stained glass windows and visit art museums in Manila. He also introduced him to Kraut Art Glass. 

“We visited Kraut Art Glass’ workshops in Pasay City, various Manila museums; we went to Angono, Rizal to visit the workshops of the late National Artist Botong Francisco and the galleries of Nemiranda and the Blancos to help me see their works and hopefully inspire me in mine.”  “I really wanted to visit the works of Botong Francisco: he has been my inspiration for these stained glass windows.”

LAMANO Poderosa (The All-Powerful Hand of God) by Ryan Carreon exhibited during the 2014 edition of Kristo Manila.

Carreon’s religious themed paintings have also been exhibited in prestigious events such as the annual Kristo Manila art exhibit  inspired by the Passion of the Christ, which aims to raise awareness about cultural heritage, particularly the role played by Christian iconography in Philippine culture and the arts.

“This is art and culture that truly evolves and endures. Ecclesiastical art and Christian iconography have a rich history. When we visit our churches, many of them centuries old, we sometimes forget that the images, from the retablos to the frescos on the ceilings and walls, are contributions to the history of local ecclesiastical art, and they must be included in conservation efforts being made for the church structures,” said Fr. Harold Rentoria, head of the NCCA-SCH, who graced the 2014 exhibit launch joined by Carreon. “It is heartwarming that artists continue to embrace this genre using their own contemporary styles.”

“Gifted To Give that’s the message of this year’s celebration. Men and Women for others,” Carreon said following the avalanche of greetings and praise from well-wishers all over the world exalting the essence and timeliness of the message shown in his painting as the Philippines celebrates 500 years of Christianity in the country.

The painting by Oro Artist Ryan Aristotle Carreon gifted to Pope Francis by the Filipino Catholic Community in Rome.


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