Under the theme “Renewing the local Church of Basilan through faith and mission,” the holy Eucharist was celebrated in the presence of hundreds of the faithful of the prelature.
The Mass was presided by Isabela Prelate Martin Jumoad along with 11 other archbishops and bishops and several priests.
In his homily, former Isabela prelate and now Kidapawan Bishop Romulo dela Cruz said the celebration was made more significant because it coincided with the World Mission Sunday.
The theme of the celebration, he said, is also relevant as the Universal Church currently observes the Year of Faith.
The bishop then echoed Pope Francis’ call to the faithful “to remain steadfast in their faith and seek new ways of evangelization” to bring back Catholics who drifted away from the Church.
“Pope Francis wanted us, not only through our prayer but through new means of evangelization, new means of proclaiming the good news so that these people might strive to come back with the grace of God and because of our witnessing to the joy of being Christians,” Dela Cruz said.
Other church leaders in attendance were Archbishops Romulo Valles of Davao, Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, Bishops Guillermo Afable of Digos, Joselito Lampon of Jolo, and Jose Nacua of Iligan.
Bishops Patricio Buzon of Kabankalan, Emmanuel Cabajar of Pagadian, Antonieto Cabajog of Surigao, Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay, Edwin dela Peña of Marawi and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Bernardino Cortez also graced the occasion.
The gathering officially closed the prelature’s Golden Jubilee Year celebration, which served as an opportunity of “thanksgiving and renewal” for the faithful.
Jumoad reiterated his appreciation to the different lay groups for their support to the Church’s various pastoral programs in Basilan, which is one of the country’s poorest provinces.
It was on October 12, 1963 when the Prelature of Isabela was erected under its first Bishop Jose Maria Querexeta though there were then only four parishes. The prelature now has eight parishes and one quasi-parish.
“In 1963, there were about 35,000 Catholics in Basilan and in 2007, while Basilan had a population of 420,000, there are now 130,000 Catholics,” Jumoad said.
He also said that at the St. Isabella of Portugal Cathedral, there is a baptismal book bearing the date 1866, which signifies there were already Catholics in Isabela at that time.
He also acknowledged the sacrifices of the Jesuits, Claretians and the Augustinian Recollect fathers who ministered to the people and for their contributions to the growth of the local Church.
Kidnap for ransom remains a genuine threat for priests, church workers and Christian civilians in Basilan, a known stronghold of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
However, not even one of them is intimidated by threats instead priests, religious and church workers vow to continue their mission.
“It is our belief on Jesus, our belief on the Holy Trinity and our faith that drive us to do mission,” Dela Cruz said. “And our mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Lord.” (CBCPNews)