All posts by Aeon

‘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.

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

[4] PewResearch and Revisiting Catholicism in Asia  


Nestorius and Nestorianism

Nestorius, who gave his name to the Nestorian heresy, was born at Germanicia, in Syria Euphoratensis (date unknown); died in the Thebaid, Egypt, c. 451. He was living as a priest and monk in the monastery of Euprepius near the walls, when he was chosen by the Emperor Theodosius II to be Patriarch of Constantinople in succession to Sisinnius. He had a highr eputation for eloquence, and the popularity of St. Chrysostom’s memory among the people of the imperial city may have influenced the Emperor’s choice of another priest from Antioch to be court bishop. He was consecrated in April, 428, and seems to have made an excellent impression. He lost no time in showing his zeal against heretics. Within a few days of hisc onsecration Nestorius had an Arian chapel destroyed, and he persuaded Theodosius to issue a severe edict against heresy in the following month. He had the churches of the Macedoniansin the Hellespont seized, and took measures against the Quartodecimans who remained inA sia Minor. He also attacked the Novatians, in spite of the good reputation of their bishop. Pelagian refugees from the West, however, he did not expel, not being well acquainted with their condemnation ten years earlier. He twice wrote to Pope St. Celestine I for information on the subject. He received no reply, but Marius Mercator, a disciple of St. Augustine, published a memoir on the subject at Constantinople, and presented it to the emperor, who duly proscribed the heretics. At the end of 428, or at latest in the early part of 429, Nestorius preached the first of his famous sermons against the word Theotokos, and detailed hisAntiochian doctrine of the Incarnation. The first to raise his voice against it was Eusebius, alayman, afterwards Bishop of Dorylaeum and the accuser of Eutyches. Two priests of the city,Philip and Proclus, who had both been unsuccessful candidates for the patriarchate, preached against Nestorius. Philip, known as Sidetes, from Side, his birthplace, author of a vast and discursive history now lost, accused the patriarch of heresy. Proclus (who was to succeed later in his candidature) preached a flowery, but perfectly orthodox, sermon, yet extant, to which Nestorius replied in an extempore discourse, which we also possess. All this naturally causedg reat excitement at Constantinople, especially among the clergy, who were clearly not well disposed towards the stranger from Antioch. St. Celestine immediately condemned the doctrine. Nestorius had arranged with the emperor in the summer of 430 for the assembling of a council. He now hastened it on, and the summons had been issued to patriarchs and metropolitans on 19 Nov., before the pope’s sentence, delivered though Cyril of Alexandria, had been served on Nestorius (6 Dec.). At the council Nestorius was condemned, and the emperor, after much delay and hesitation, ratified its finding. It was confirmed by Pope Sixtus III.

Read more here.

History of the Archdiocese of Palo

The Archdiocese of Palo in the island of Leyte was first created a diocese on November 28,1937, and then elevated to an archdiocese on November 15,1982 with four suffragan dioceses: Calbayog, Borongan. Catarman and Naval.

Up until the 18th century, Leyte and Samar were considered by the Spanish government as one single political unit under their original names of Tendaya and lbabao. They were then under the jurisdiction of the Spanish government in Cebu. In 1735 they were separated from Cebu and became a single province with Carigara as the capital, disregarding the narrow body of water, the San Juanico

Strait, that separates them at one point. In 1768 they were split up into two separate provinces with Tacloban as the capital of Leyte. After the Second World War the island of Leyte was split up into the provinces of Leyte, comprising the upper three4burths, and that of Southern Leyte occupying the southeastern part of the island.

Leyte and Samar have a shared history. Both islands were the scene of the arrival of the, first Spanish expedition to the Philippines in 1521. Magellan first landed in Homonhon, a tiny island off the Samar coast. Later the first Catholic Mass in the country was celebrated on the island of Limasawa in the southern part of Leyte.

Historically Leyte has been a constant battlefield. A Filipino revolutionary leader, General Vicente Lukban, made Leyte his stronghold during the Philippine-American War. And during World War 11, the hero General Douglas MacArthur landed on Red Beach in Leyte to fulfill his promise to return to the Philippines to liberate it from the Japanese.

Today the Archdiocese of Palo (a major town in Leyte) comprises the civil province of Leyte, excluding four municipalities in the north which belong to the Diocese of Naval, and six towns in the southwest which belong to the Diocese of Maasin. it has a land area of 4,620 square kilometers and a population of 1, 165,565 of which 95 percent are Catholics.

The most recent event celebrated by the Archdiocese of Palo was the

400 Years of Formal Evangelization of the island of Leyte on July 16, 1905. Four hundred years earlier, the Jesuit missionaries Fray Pedro Chirino, Fray Cosme de Flores, Fray Juan del Campo and a layman, Gaspar Garay landed in Carigara and started the formal evangelization of the island. The Apostolic Nuncio Gian Vincenzo Moreni, with seven other bishops, the clergy of Palo aii(I of the suffragan dioceses concelebrated a thanksgiving Mass in Carigara before a crowd Of 30,000 from all the parishes of the archdiocese.

There are 47 parishes in the archdiocese which is divided into two districts: the Eastern District which speaks Waray and the Western District which speaks Cebuano. There are 7 vicariates in the cast comprising 34 parishes and 2 vicariates in the west with 13 parishes and I chaplaincy

There are 91 diocesan and 8 religious priests actively working in the archdiocese at present; 8 priests are pursuing further studies outside the archdiocese, and 18 are working out of the diocese. There is a total of 129 diocesan and 8 religious priests serving the Archdiocese of Palo.

There are two seminaries: the Sacred Heart Seminary founded in 1944 which offers high school, precollege, and philosophy education; the St. John Evangelist School of Theology founded in 1988, which serves not only the metropolitan province but also the Dioceses of Maasin, Surigao, Davao, Mati and Tagum.

After the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the archdiocese released its 1985 Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan to realign it with the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. After the emergence of the Revised Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan, the parishes will be in the process of forming their own Parish Pastoral Plans, to conform with that of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan.

Source: CBCP Online

History of the Archdiocese of Jaro

The Archdiocese of Jaro is one of the oldest dioceses in the country. It was created a diocese by virtue of a papal bull of Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865, according to a document signed by Archbishop Gregorio Martinez, then Archbishop of Manila, under whole ecclesiastical province the new diocese belonged as suffragan.

Bishop Mariano Cuartero, a Dominican, took possession of the diocese on April 25, 1868. The new diocese then included the entire island of Panay (today’s Capiz, Aklan, Iloilo and Antique provinces), Negros Island, Romblon and Palawan in the Visayas: Jolo, Zamboanga, Cotabato and Davao on the island of Mindanao. This vast territory was later divided to form new ecclesiastical jurisdictions: Zamboanga in 1910, Bacolod in 1933, Capiz in 1951 and San Jose de Antique in 1962.

On June 29, 1951, a papal bull by His Holiness Pope Plus XII raised Jaro to an archdiocese, with the dioceses of Bacolod, Capiz and the then Prelature Nullius of Antique as suffragans. The Most Reverend Jose Ma. Cuenco was raised to the rank of Metropolitan Archbishop of Jaro.

The Archdiocese of Jaro today comprises the entire civil province of Iloilo and the sub-province of Guimaras, a small island off its south eastern coast. with San Jose de Antique, San Carlos of Negros Occidental and Kabankalan, also of Negros Occidental, as suffragans. Out of its population of 1,761,419,89 per cent are Catholics. Its titutar patron is St. Elizabeth of Hungary, whose feast is celebrated on November 17.

The province of Iloilo occupies the southeastern portion of Panay Island in the region known as Western Visayas or Region VI, one of the richest regions in the country. It is separated from Guimaras Island by the Iloilo Strait, and is bounded on the north by the province of Capiz, on the west by Antique, on the east by Guimaras Strait and on the south by Panay Gulf. Iloilo City has been the capital of the province since 1688, and included within it are the towns of Manduriao, Jaro, La Paz, Arevalo and Molo.

Iloilo shares with her sister provinces the history of a Malay settlement on the Island of Panay on the 13th century, when ten Bornean datus bought the lowlands from the Negritos with gold and ornaments. This particular area, that of Iloilo, was called Irong-Irong which the Spaniards later changed to Iloilo. The political partition with Capiz took place in 1716, and that with Antique in 1796.

Iloilo City, of which Jaro is part, became a chartered city in 1936, although foreign trade already existed from this seaport since 1850. The original stock of Negritosand Borneans is now hardly recognizable, with Ilonggos, Visayans and Tagalogspredominating. Its old houses and churches still show traces of Spanish influence.

Ecclesiastically, the Archdiocese of Jaro holds some noteworthy historical notes showing the vibrant faith of its deeply Christian population. Its St. Vincent Seminary has produced one cardinal (Jaime Cardinal Sin), two archbishops and six bishops. In number of religious sisters it ranks second only to Manila; in number of parishes and secular priests it ranks third after Manila and Cebu. The first Carmelite Monastery and the first Trappist Monastery in the country were founded within the Archdiocese of Jaro.

With its Christian roots deep in fidelity to the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Jaro today faces the challenges of Vatican II and the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. It is strengthened by an enthusiastic response from the laity working in cooperation with the clergy in a renewal effort that reaches down to the parochial levels. Old historic churches stand side by side with new ones and are filled to overflowing by the young and old gathered before the Eucharistic table, singing in praise of the Lord in Ilonggo and in English.

Source: CBCP Online

The Real Mother of All Churches?

Back in April of 2014, the Manila Cathedral was finally re-opened and, interestingly enough, the CBCP newsite dubbed it as the “mother of all Philippine churches” for reasons being an important episcopal see and the structure’s antiquity. Before the news, blogs and others on the internet assumed this title.  What’s more fascinating is the Basilica del Sto. Niño and the Cebu Cathedral preceded other Christian structures in the Philippines (Nestorian Christianity not included).

Before becoming the cathedral now, the Cebu bishop’s see was primarily an ordinary church built by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres de Urdaneta. Bishop Pedro Agurto, O.S.A.,  (the first Cebu diocesan prelate) chose the structure as his see in 1595.  On the  same day of the Cebu Cathedral’s  foundation (April 1565), the Augustinian church and convent (also the first ever convent in the archipelago) was established on the very spot the image of the Sto. Niño was found. The Cebuana Anthropologist Astrid Sala-Boza, when settling the issue where the Holy Image was found (Basilica del Sto. Niño vs. San Nicolas de Tolentino Church), she demonstrated that the Cebu Cathedral was also the church established in 1565. [1]

In 1965, during the celebration of the 400th anniversary of evangelization (not Christianization)[2]  in the Apostolic Letter Ut Clarificetur, Pope Paul VI described in Latin the genesis of Christianity and called the church enshrined the Sto. Niño not only the “mother” of all the future churches in the archipelago but also its “head”! [3]

Let me be clear, this is in no way minimizing the importance of the Manila Cathedral–far from it. Manila is one of the most influential and important episcopal sees. However, we have to look at the eminence of the Basilica del Sto. Niño and remember the “mother and head of all churches” in the country is canonically under the equally historical Cebu Cathedral, thus, consequently making Cebu the primatial see of the Philippines.



1. For perusal on the subject:  Sala-Boza, Astrid, “The Contested Site of the Finding of the Holy Child: Villa San Miguel or San Nicolas (Cebu El Viejo),” Philippine Quarterly of Culture Society 34, (2006): 232. Also available in the University of San Carlos Publication

2. The Christian faith started in 1521 at the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and Fr. Pedro Valderrama. While it’s true there was an evangelization transpired in 1521 materially, the formal endeavor happened in 1565. In the year 2021, the Philippines will celebrate half a millennium of Christianity.

3. “mater et caput… omnium ecclesiarum Insularum Philippinarum.”

History of the CBCP


The origins of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines may be traced to as far back as February 15,1945 when the Apostolic Delegate, Bishop William (Guglielmo) Piani, even as the war was raging, created the Catholic Welfare Organization (CWO), with its central office at a remodeled coop at the University of Santo Tomas interment camp. (Eventually, the office was moved to the following addresses in succession: La Consolación College at 260 San Rafael St., Manila, in the same year; 1500 Taft Avenue in 1953; 2472 Taft Avenue in 1955; 2655 F.B. Harrison in 1974; 372 Cabildo St.; and, finally, 470 General Luna St,, Intramuros, in 1983.) Obviously with the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) of the bishops of the United States as his inspiration and model, Msgr. Piani’s major objective was “to meet the war emergency created by the destruction of so many towns.” Manila, for example, was the scene of the most destructive land battles in the country. As Gen. Dwight Eisenhower remarked, with the exception of Warsaw (Poland), “this is the worst destruction I have ever seen.” Seeing the need of a coordinated effort to aid the stricken populace, Msgr. Piani presented the services of the CWO to General Douglas MacArthur, and the offer was accepted. In charge of the relief work was the Rev. John Hurley, SJ. Its first personnel included lay men and women as well as clerics. During and after the battle of Manila, it sheltered around 10,000 half-naked and starving refugees, acted as important outlet of the PCAU (Philippine Civil Affairs Unit) foodstuff, and sent out burial squads to bury countless corpses. In the first five months of its existence, it distributed food, medicine, clothing, and other relief goods valued at 906,030.

On 17 July 1945, all the bishops met in Manila for their first meeting after the Japanese Occupation, and three days after, Msgr. Piani granted their request to place in their hands the direction of the CWO and make it the official organization of the Hierarchy of the Philippines. After the Apostolic Delegate received from the Holy See the proposal and directive to incorporate the CWO, the articles of incorporation were duly registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission in Manila, on 23 January 1946, with 18 incorporators. As stated in the Articles of Incorporation, the purpose of the CWO was “to unify, coordinate, and organize the Catholic people of the Philippines in works of education, social welfare, religious and spiritual aid and other activities.” The Board of Directors was composed of Bishops Gabriel Reyes (Cebu), chairman; Constancio Jurgens (Tuguegarao), Mariano Madriaga (Lingayen), Santiago Sancho (Nueva Segovia) and Alfredo Verzosa (Lipa), members. A few years later, a new constitution was approved by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation on 28 June 1952 and took effect on 30 June 1953. Such were the beginnings of the CWO. It was a welfare organization which had no juridical status in the Church. It was financed through regular quota subscription from all the bishops, and partly from the shipping service and, until 1948, the War Relief Services (WRS; renamed Catholic Relief Services [CRS] in 1955). Later on, the quota subscription was made on the basis of the Catholic population in each diocese. [1]

The Period of Defensiveness (1945-1965) [2]

To understand the subsequent history of the CWO until the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, it is to be remembered that with the imposition of the American rule, and in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Philippine Church found itself in a new and difficult situation. Quite apart from the destruction of its churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions which was estimated at 250,000,000, it continued to be confronted with various enormous problems which were attendant upon the change of colonial master. Aside from the lack of personnel which compounded the problem of poorly instructed Catholics, it suffered from the dearth of financial resources because the people, though generous in other ways, were slow to contribute to the Church, whose needs were supplied by the Patronato Real for nearly four centuries. It was also faced with the invasion of Protestant missionaries, the anti-religious influence of masonry, the anti-Catholic tendencies of former pensionados who studied in US Protestant universities, the anti-clerical Filipino elite who were inheritors of the anti-clerical feeling during the Revolution of 1898, and who held important positions in the government and in business. It suffered, too, from the outcome of the Aglipayan schism. In addition, it came to grips with such American innovations as public school system and the separation of the Church and State. While all this had to do with the inner life of the Church, the bishops were aware of such social problems as social injustice and the revolutionary threat of the influential communist party, Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), especially when its military arm, the HUKBALAHAP (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, later renamed Hukbong Magpapalaya ng Bayan), became a major political force, and the incursion of the American secular culture and its corresponding values. Given its ecclesiological framework which was largely defined by the ecclesiology of the Council of Trent and baroque theology, it is not surprising that since its foundation until the end of the Second Vatican Council, the CWO for the most part looked inwardly, and was principally concerned with the defense, protection, strengthening and furtherance of the vital interests of the Catholic Church as a social institution and of supernatural values. (During this period of the CBCP history, the body was headed successively by the following archbishops: Gabriel Reyes [1945-1949 / 1950-1952], [later, Cardinal] Rufino Santos [1953-1956], Juan Sison [1957-1960] and [later, Cardinal] Julio Rosales [1961-1965].)

Immediately after the war, the CWO continued to be largely engaged in relief services. When it was made the agency for the War Relief Services (WRS), its 18 bishops and prefects apostolic became the 18 regional directors for the WRS relief, with the parish priests and various congregations seeing to the equitable distribution without racial or religious distinctions. From 1946 through 1948, it distributed relief amounting to 4,645,282.95. However, not a few of its services were directed toward the institution itself. For instance, aside from the War Damage Claims services it offered to make possible the war damage payments to the Catholic Church, its churches, rectories and schools, it rendered services in particular legal problems for various bishops and religious orders, and, through its Shipping Department, handled their incoming and outgoing cargoes, inter-island and overseas. Likewise, it took care of a variety of problems of bishops, priests and religious with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Customs, Immigration, Office of the Registrar General, Registrar of Priests and Ministers Division, among others. Its Information Department issued bulletins that were of interest and use to the bishops and the major religious communities.

At the same time, the CWO became the means through which the interests and values of the Catholic Church were defended, protected and furthered. Faced with the consequences of the separation of Church and State, among them being the lessening of the means by which it could fulfill its teaching mission and influence the people, the CWO fought much for the religious instruction in public schools which was strongly opposed by Masons, anti–Catholic individuals and religious sects, and for the private schools’ right to exist. For the bishops, the Catholic schools could help create and support a Catholic order. Largely for the same reason, and to spread the faith under constant attack, it tried to maintain a national weekly, The Sentinel, despite the financial burden, until its closure in 1968. Likewise, it had a radio program over DZPI and DZST in Manila and DXMS in Cotabato, even though its original plan, as early as 1949, was to put up its own radio station in order to “guarantee Catholic independence to speak out on any question of morals.” The “Tinig ni Mang Juan” radio program was instrumental both in the defense of Catholic faith against Masons and other anti-Catholics, and in the return of many to the Catholic fold. With the country under the threat of Communist takeover in the 1950s, the latter two became vehicles through which the Catholic view on Communism was expounded. In the face of indifferent or even anti-Catholic politicians and Masons, it tried to influence elections and the legislature, and mobilized public opinion. For example, it helped rouse public opinion against the efforts to liberalize divorce, introduce unwise sex education in the schools, discriminate European teachers in private school because of their religion, sterilize children of lepers, etc. With not much success, it opposed taxation on religious organizations. And against the corruption of morals, it set up, among others, the Legion of Decency, which later became a commission, to discourage the public from seeing morally objectionable pictures and from patronizing theaters which exhibited indecent films. As can be gleaned from its resolutions and letters, the CWO, of course, tended to confine the problems of morals to issues related to smutty movies, sex and birth control. In 1956, it approved not to admit ballet students to Catholic high schools. Obviously, it then lacked focus on more important moral issues as labor and social justice. And needless to mention, it was hardly ecumenical, either in its pronouncements or in its activities. As already noted, all this reflects the ecclesiology of the period, and illustrates an effort to construct a social order in which faith can be embraced, grow, and thus create a Christian culture.

At times, its battles for the protection of the legitimate interests of the Church and the furtherance of supernatural values became celebrated cases. In 1952, for instance, it was discovered that three top men in the Department of Education, sworn into office to uphold and implement the teaching of religion in public schools, were also sworn in by their masonic affiliation to eliminate it. The CWO handed a letter to the President stating the stand of the Church with regard to the Masonic commitment of the three officials. It availed itself of the services of Atty. Raul Manglapus, Atty. Ambrosio Padilla, Atty. Jose Feria and Atty. Francisco Rodrigo in prosecuting the cause of the Church. The Rizal Bill No. 438 is another case in point. Originally authored by Sen. Claro Recto, the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jose Laurel, proposed to make Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo compulsory reading in all universities and colleges. The measure ignited a hot controversy, and encountered a determined opposition from the CWO, not to mention the various Catholic organizations led by the Catholic Action of the Philippines (CAP), on the ground that it violated freedom of conscience and religion. The controversy ended with a substitution of a different measure which accommodated the objections of the CWO.

But the concerted voice of the CWO was also communicated to the Catholics and the whole nation at large through its letters and statements. The CWO was almost always able to issue them on issues of national importance. Its opposition to Freemasonry found expression in a joint pastoral letter, issued on 18 and 24 January 1950, on the anti-Catholic book of Rafael Palma, The Pride of Malay Race, which tried to prove the Jesuits concerned were liars and the ecclesiastical authorities forgers of Rizal’s retraction, and in its statement on Masonry (14 January 1954). Its concern for the threat of Communist takeover can be seen in its pastoral letter on social justice (21 May 1949) and on Communism (15 August 1954). In these letters, the bishops wisely pointed out the social roots of Communism, and criticized the injustices of Capitalism which encouraged the growth of the communist movement; and with the surrender of Luis Taruc showed its opposition to witch-hunt, even though it rejected Communism. That it considered the transmission of Christian truth and values through the schools important in a society that fostered pluralism in religion can be inferred from its letters and statements on Religious Instruction in Public Schools on 18 February 1953, on Catholic Education on 10 April 1955, and on the Religious Instruction Bill on 6 June 1965. The ground for its opposition to the Rizal Bill finds expression in a statement on the two novels on 21 April 1956. And against the corruption of morals, it wrote a pastoral on materialism, its first joint letter to Filipinos after the war. All in all, the CWO issued 39 joint pastoral letters and statements from 1945 to 1965. It may be observed that although these letters and statements were strong when Catholic interests were under attack, in general they tended to dwell on general principles and lacked prophetic slant when it came to particular political and social questions.

It would appear from the foregoing, that the CWO was for the most part concerned with the Church ad intra. In fact, its administrative structure lends support to this observation. After eight years of existence, in addition to the agencies under the secretary general (Sentinel, Relief, Legion of Decency, and Public Relation Office), it had only three episcopal commissions, which were hardly engaged in ad extra issues: Department of Education and Religious Instruction, Department of Catholic and Social Action, and Department of Mission. That, however, is understandable. The ecclesiological framework derived from the theology of the Council of Trent put theological limits to the CWO involvement in the socioeconomic and the political structure of the nation. It is not surprising, therefore, that despite the unrest in agriculture and labor fronts, its involvement in these spheres may be characterized chiefly as social charity or welfare. The importance of the Catholic schools, orphanages, hospitals and other charitable institutions, like the Catholic Charities which Cardinal Santos founded in 1953, may be viewed from this angle. Indeed, although it wrote letters on social principles (1948) and social justice (1949), the place of these social principles was not yet well integrated into the ecclesiological outlook inherited from Trent. Obviously, the CWO needed some vehicles to translate these principles into the particular situation.

Initially, its work for the socioeconomic aspect of the people’s lives was handled by the Social Welfare Department. However, in 1952, the Social Action Department of the CWO was established to promote, on the national level, a sound and effective program of Catholic action in the social field for the reconstruction of the social order in accord with the directives set forth by the popes especially in Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. On 13-27 April 1953, the department organized the Priests and Laymen’s Institute of Social Action (PLISA) under the auspices of the Ateneo de Manila, and one of the concrete results of the PLISA was the establishment of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) on 8 September 1953, under the leadership of Atty. Jeremias Montemayor. Staunchly anti-Communist, its purpose was the organization of small farmers and tenants for cooperative action in defense of their rights, and promotion of their social welfare. (The Federation of Free Workers [FFW] was organized earlier, but this was not the initiative of the CWO, even though it was inspired by Catholic social teaching, as was Atty. Raul Manglapus’ Christian Social Movement [CSM] in 1967.) Even so, the CWO was not very much involved in labor and rural problems of the day, despite the fact that its statements often quoted papal social encyclicals. In 1956, the Organization suffered a setback in its socioeconomic involvement, because after the UST strike by the FFW-affiliated UST Employees Organization, the Catholic Church, in the words of Bishop Lino Gonzaga, “lost much prestige in the labor front.” It was not until 1970, and even more strongly in 1976, that the bishops’ body would issue a statement on labor rights.

The same ecclesiological framework marked off the lay participation in the social apostolate. Understandably, Pius XI, in his Ubi arcano Dei (1922), within the boundaries of a monarchical ecclesiology, defined lay apostolate in terms of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. Still, that cooperation was a major link between the Bellarminian view of the Church which rooted all ministry in the Hierarchy and the consciousness that each Christian had to be a witness to the Gospel in the world. In the Philippines, the lay participation was accomplished through the coordination of various religious organizations on a national scale under the Episcopal Commission on Catholic Action. Their primary objective was to strive, give practical effect, in their respective fields, to the mandata of the Hierarchy in accord with the directives of Pius XI. The Catholic Action was represented at both the diocesan and parochial levels: the Barangay Sang Birhen, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League, Legion of Mary, Student Catholic Action, Young Christian Workers, Sodality of Our Lady, etc. At the national level, these were federated into the Catholic Action of the Philippines (CAP). Aside from such traditional activities as organization of religious celebrations, congresses, and catechesis, these organizations were the frontliners in many rallies, lobbied in Congress, and were engaged in various social activities. The Catholic Action of the Philippines sponsored the first Lay Institute of Social Action (LISA), and held its first post-war convention in 1952. It was not within the province of the lay apostolate to be directly involved in socioeconomic institutions and their activities. And obviously, it was the thinking at that time that if the social order was to be renewed, it would come from the top.

Four outstanding events, which came to pass during this period of the CBCP history, and in which the CWO played a part, may be recalled because, among other reasons, they demonstrated that the Philippine Church, despite the onslaughts against it by the Masons and other anti-Catholics, was vibrant and flourishing. The first one was the convocation of the First Plenary Council of the Philippines in Manila from 7 to 25 January 1953, presided over by Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy, archbishop of Sydney (Australia). Its purpose was to bear witness to the Catholic faith of the Filipino people, and to decree such legislations as may be necessary for the preservation, enrichment and propagation of Catholic life. To solve the problems confronted at the time, the Council, no doubt within the Tridentine framework, offered to renew the social order through the renewal of spirit of both clergy and laity. That spirit was to be manifested in the concern for individual salvation and formation of social conscience. And the individual and social energy generated was to be organized in the forms approved by the Church and under the direction of the Hierarchy. The second one was the Marian Congress in Manila, held on 1-5 December 1954, with Cardinal Fernando Quiroga y Palacios, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), presiding. It was a grand manifestation of Catholic faith, which culminated in a liturgical celebration, participated in by more than a million Catholics, headed by President Ramon Magsaysay and his family. Then, on 7 October 1961, the Pontificio Collegio-Seminario Filippino, whose cornerstone was laid on 1 August 1959, was finally inaugurated and blessed, so that Filipino seminarians and priests could be trained sub umbra Petri. Lastly, the nation observed a six-day celebration of the 4th centenary of the Philippine Christianization in Cebu (27 April – 2 May 1965), graced by Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, Apostolic Delegate to the US, and by most of the Philippine bishops. It saw the birth of the Philippine Mission Society, signifying, among others, that it was now the turn of the Filipinos to spread to other lands the faith they had received.





The Sto. Niño de Cebu: The Oldest Icon in the Country



Photo: Courtesy of andalltheangelsandsaints blog 

The Santo Niño icon of Cebu is historically recognized as the oldest religious relic in the Philippines. Itsorigin is traced from the celebrated voyage of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 which accidentally “discovered” and claimed the islands for the Spanish Monarchy. The historic arrival was purely uncalculated for the fleet did not intend to sail directly to the Philippines. The land of the spices, particularly the highly-contested Moluccas, was the expedition’s targetdestination. The armada reached the islands after it was driven away by strong winds from the original routewhich eventually brought them to the island of Cebu. The preliminary encounters that followed forged conditional alliancesand the accompanying ceremonials took place including the introduction of the Christian faith. Initial attempt to evangelize the indigenous people of Cebu was accomplished with the hasty acceptance of the Christian faith by King Humabon and his subjects numbering around 800. The Santo Niño image was given to Queen Juana upon her ardent wish to have it in place of her local deities. The baptized indigenous people did not flourish in their practice of faith mainly due to the untimely demise of Magellan (including the chaplain Fr. Pedro Valderrama) and the eventual return of the surviving contingent to Spain. Also attributable to the absence of deeper instruction, the baptismal rite was misconstrued by the locals as a customary ritual of friendship rather than a spiritual initiation. After the interruption of forty-four (44) years, the Legazpi-Urdaneta Expedition arrived in Cebu. On April 28, 1565, the dramatic yet providential discovery (pagkakaplag) of the same wooden image in a partially scorched hut started the distinctive Christian heritage of the Philippines. The Augustinians who accompanied the journey commenced the systematic evangelization and Christianization of the islands. The subsequent foundation of the Church and Convent of the Augustinians rose on the actual site where the statuette was found. It became the central house of the Augustinians, the mother church in the Philippine Islands. The establishment of organic settlements and mission areas followed instantaneously and the pioneering evangelization gradually prospered in geographical reach and ecclesial organization despite the scarcity of missionaries. Additional religious orders were commissioned to the Philippines in successive intervals: Franciscans (1578), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587), and Augustinian Recollects (1606). Their ground-breaking missionary endeavours contributed to the Philippine identity as a predominantly Christian nation.

The first Church and Convent dedicated to Santo Niño developed into a principalhouse of the Augustinian friars mainly in the spiritual and missionary formation, and the promotion of the devotion to the Holy Child – theadored patron, protector and inspiration. As a consequence, the Santo Niño Church grew in popularity throughout the islands both in magnificence and significance as the cradle of Philippine Christianity, and the perpetual sanctuary of the Santo Niño of Cebu. In recognition of the historical, religious and cultural importance of the Santo Niño Church and the sacred relic it keeps, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) petitioned Pope Paul VI in 1964 to confer on the Santo Niño Church the title “Basilica Minore” in time for the Fourth Centennial of the Christianization of the Philippines in 1965.The Santo Niño icon was also canonically crowned by the Papal LegateIldebrando Cardinal Antoniutti – a solemn gesture of singular honor reserved to the beloved Santo Niño. In its entirety, the Fourth Centennial Celebration overwhelmingly succeeded in engaging the entire nation, thus renewing “The Philippines for Christ” in faith, commitment and enthusiasm to live out the Gospel message.

Read more here.