‘Cradle of Christianity’ or ‘Seat of Christianity’ in the Far East?

Cebu has been referred to many things such as “cradle” or birthplace of Christianity in the Philippines; some would include Southeast Asia and others the entirety of the Asian continent. Both clergymen and laymen alike also allude the same central island as (Philippine / Southeast Asian / Asian) Christianity’s “seat,” but which are accurate and otherwise?

Catholic Christianity vs Nestorian Christianity

Now before the endeavor of the title’s accuracy, we have to discern the word “Christianity.” In this context, we are referring to the true Christianity found in Catholicism (those who disagree, I invite you to read the tracts of Catholic Answers here and here). While Catholic Christianity took root in Asia, another type of Christianity preceded especially in the Southeast region called Nestorian Christianity; though this sect was wiped off the Asian map years before the Portuguese and Spaniards set foot in the 1500s.[1] Hereafter then, when we say “Christianity,” we mean to say the Catholic type unless specified.

Also for being unequivocal, the term “Far East” can mean the Southeast Asia or the entire Asian continent.

Far East: In the Context of Southeast Asia

Malacca, Malaysia (1511) and Cebu, Philippines (1521) were the two pillars of Christianity in Southeast Asia. However, by the dawn of the 1600 Malacca was leveled to the ground by the Dutch onslaught rendering its diocese dissolved, its churches and parishes destroyed, and the land converted to the Dutch Reformed faith while the central island in the Philippines remained Catholic. Interestingly, the faithful in Malacca fled and found refuge in Cebu [2] as if by divine intervention Malacca passed the baton being herald of Christianity to another pillar in the region. Adding into the equation that the Philippines was called by Pope Blessed Paul VI as “a great Catholic nation in South-East Asia” in 1965 in celebration of the 400th anniversary of evangelization,[3] hence, Cebu being “cradle” and “seat” of Christianity in Southeast Asia truly has credence.

Far East: In the context of Asia

The first Christian community ever established in Asia was not from Cebu but Kerala, India founded by the Apostle Thomas in the first century. While the community had apostolic lineage, St. Thomas Christians had an irregular communion with the See of the Apostle Peter (Rome). Until today, the community in communion with Rome thrived. Hence, it is erroneous to assume Cebu is the “cradle” of Christianity in Asia. Kerala rightfully holds that title.

Being the center and seat of Christianity is another matter. We all know the Philippines holds the number of Catholic Christians in all of Asia. Looking into the statistics, Philippines has the larger numbers even with China, India, Vietnam, Korea, Japan combined and this is no exaggeration. [4] Deductively, all of the country’s great size of faithful found its genesis and spiritual center undoubtedly in Cebu.

Therefore, it is not superfluous for the bishops and faithful alike to say Cebu, in the context of the Philippines and all Southeast Asia, as cradle of Christianity. Also it’s valid too to say, in the light of Asia, as Christianity’s seat. Indeed, Cebu is the spiritual Rome of the Far East.



[1] For more perusal on the subject: John C. England’s The Earliest Christian Communities in Southeast and Northeast Asia: An Outline of the Evidence Available in Seven Countries before A.D. 1500

[2] Peter Schreurs, “Did Saint Francis Xavier Come to Mindanao?” Philippine Quarterly of Culture Society 22, (1994): 20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29792140

[3] Speeches of Pope Paul VI (Vatican Website)

[4] PewResearch and Revisiting Catholicism in Asia