As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col 2:6-7)
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has dedicated the year 2015 for Consecrated Life. This special Church event started on the First Sunday of Advent and will end on February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. The purpose of this event according to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz, is to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past while embracing the future with hope.”
The year 2015 also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life.
Concurrent with the aforementioned events is our observance in the Philippine Church of the Year of the Poor as part of our nine-year preparation for the Great Jubilee 2021. Thus, our observance of the Year of Consecrated Life and the Year of the Poor in 2015 serves as our ecclesial horizon in our “grateful remembrance of the past and hopeful embrace of the future”.
In the middle of our nine year preparation for the Great Jubilee 2021 celebrating the first Mass and first baptism in the Philippines, we invite you to celebrate kaplag, the discovery on April 29, 1565 of the image of the Santo Niño in an abandoned house in Cebu. The finding occurred just a day after the arrival of the Legazpi-Urdaneta expedition inCebu, and was greeted as a marvelous portent of the success of the missionary endeavor. Effectively, this day marked the formal beginning of the continuous proclamation of the Gospel to us Filipinos.
It must be noted that when the Santo Niño was found, there were evidences that it had been treated as an object of veneration. Its original garments had been replaced by local material; it had a necklace of peculiar make, but with a cross probably also from Magellan; flowers were found before the image. The Cebuanos had made sacrifices in front of the image and had anointed it with oil. This image of the Santo Niño is believed to be the same one given by Magellan to the native queen who was baptized Juana in 1521. Thus seven years from now we shall be celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the first recorded Mass and baptism in thePhilippines.
The First Missionaries
Our Christian faith was brought to our shores by selfless men and women from many countries. During the first three centuries they came initially from Spainand Mexico, but also from Italy, Germany, and Central Europe. They were formed and sent by religious Orders, which at that time were the most organized to send missionaries. They braved the seas in ships, with each batch or shipload called abarcada (whence the popular name for our peer groups). It pleases us to recall their institutions in anhonor roll, in their order of arrival:
In the first century of evangelization these were: the Augustinians (OSA), 1565; the Franciscans (OFM), 1578; the Jesuits (SJ), 1581; the Dominicans (OP), 1587; the Japanese beatas, 1602; the Augustinian Recollects (OAR), 1606; the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God (OH), 1611; and the Poor Clares (OFM), 1621.
Members of the Third Orders for women of these congregations, now called the Lay Orders, also formed their own institutions of consecrated life in thePhilippines. In order of their foundation, these were: the beatas of Bolinao, 1659; the Dominican Tertiaries (OP), 1682 and 1750; the beatas de la Compañia, ancestors of the RVM sisters, 1684; the beatas of Babuyanes, 1719; the Augustinian Recollect Tertiaries (OAR), 1719; and the Augustinian Tertiaries, ancestor of the ASOLC sisters, 1740.
In the second half of the 19th century came more congregations: the Vincentian Fathers (CM) and Daughters of Charity (DC), 1862; the Augustinian Tertiary Sisters from Barcelona (OSA), 1883; the Capuchin Friars (OFM Cap), 1886; the Assumption Sisters (RA), 1892; and the Benedictines (OSB), 1895.
During this same time religious groups of women were also formed: the Hermanitas de la Madre de Dios, Cebu, 1877; the beatas de Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, 1880; and the beatas de Santa Maria Magdalena, La Paz, Iloilo, 1887.
The critical condition of the Philippine Church at the beginning of the 20th century in the light of the Philippine revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War led the bishops to call for other congregations. First to respond were the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres (SPC), 1904. From here up to the convening of the First National Eucharistic Congress in Manila on 11-15 December 1929, there arrived the Redemptorists (CSsR), 1906; the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM), 1906; the Benedictine Sisters (OSB), 1906; the Fathers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), 1907; the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC), 1908; the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD), 1909; the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM), 1910; the Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC), 1911; the Franciscan Missionariers of Mary (FMM), 1912; the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), 1912; the Holy Spirit Sisters (SSpS), 1912; the Oblates of St Joseph (OSJ), 1915; the Pink Sisters (SSsPAP), 1923; the Discalced Carmelite Nuns (OCD), 1923; the Maryknoll Sisters (MM), 1925; the Maryknoll Fathers (MM), 1926; the Columbans, 1929; and the Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (now SFIC), 1929. During this period another congregation for local women was also established, the Dominican Sisters of Molo (OP Molo), 1925. In the ensuing decades up to the present, many more congregations of men and women, local and international, have come to assist in the continuing evangelization of the Church in the Philippines.
They Lived Christ and Shared Christ
To each and every one of these men and women, “known or unknown,” the Papal Legate Cardinal Ildebrando Antoniutti said, “the Church devotes a grateful and heartfelt thought, as does also the fatherland which they helped to establish.”
Apart from the obvious apostolic work such as catechizing, preaching, and building churches, these men and women lived their religious lives in community.
The legacy of these religious congregations to Philippine life is staggering. Histories of peoples were written down or may be gleaned through neatly kept canonical books, records of income and expenses, and inventories of church goods and property, all of which were dutifully turned over by every incoming and outgoing personnel and kept in archives and libraries. Members of religious congregations were sent as emissaries to foreign countries such asJapan,China,Cambodia, andSiam. They contributed to the defence of the islands against pirates and slave-raiders, helped in pacifying revolts, and extended assistance during natural calamities such as famines, wars, plagues, floods, earthquakes, and typhoons.
The Promotion of Filipino Culture
The arts and sciences flourished under their care. In terms of cultural heritage alone, the country is the richer not just for solid and artistic churches and conventos but also schools, hospitals, orphanages, leprosaria, dams, fortresses, watchtowers streets, bridges, plazas, and even marketplaces like the market of Baclayon, Bohol and town halls like the tribunal of Paoay, Ilocos Norte.
Philippine languages were preserved in grammars and dictionaries. Local plants were documented and promoted for their medicinal and economic value. The Augustinians introduced the European-style weaving loom, and brought in trapiches from Mexico to extract sugar. As early as 1669, the Franciscans had introduced a hemp-stripping machine in Bacon, Sorsogon which presaged Bicol’s abaca industry[i].
Explorations of new territory were preserved in maps, duly printed in the presses which the religious orders established. The Villaverde Trail opened a route that connected Pangasinan with Nueva Vizcaya via the Caraballo mountains (1890s). The most famous Philippine map is that by the Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde, printed by Filipino engravers inManilain 1734. The Dominicans established a printing press in 1593, the present UST Publishing House, possibly the second oldest running publishing house in the world.
The Jesuit Meteorological Observatory established in 1869 pioneered in predicting tropical disturbances. In Minuluan (now Talisay) Negros Occidental, Fr Fernando Cuenca OAR promoted the sugar industry by inventing the hydraulic pressing machine for milling cane in 1872[ii]. Electricity and Edison’s phonograph were introduced through the University of Santo Tomas in 1880[iii]. Fr Felix Huerta OFM facilitated the realization of the water supply forManila in 1882.
Pope Francis in his homily at the Manila Cathedral rightly said: “As the Church in the Philippines looks to the fifth centenary of its evangelization, we feel gratitude for the legacy left by so many bishops, priests and religious of past generations. They labored not only to preach the Gospel and build up the Church in this country, but also to forge a society inspired by the Gospel message of charity, forgiveness and solidarity in the service of the common good.”
EMBRACING THE FUTURE WITH HOPE
Hail Our Valiant Religious Men and Women
The commemoration of the discovery of the Santo Niño leads us to embrace the future with hope as we observe a truthful review of the contribution of the religious orders and congregations. We are called forth to a renewed commitment of their following of Christ through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. May every religious be led to a joyful response with the people of God in the work of evangelization today!
First, a truthful review should be based on historical evidence of the religious groups who came to thePhilippines, especially the friar orders of the Spanish colonial period. The ghosts of the Black Legend and even of our own Propaganda Movement and its supporters have conditioned our thinking towards these friars, with the backlash that the key to the understanding of so many sources to our history—our knowledge of the Spanish language—has unfortunately deteriorated. Unfamiliarity with primary sources has led significant sectors of the Philippine Church—hierarchy and seminary professors included—to regard the role of the religious in the Spanish colonial chapter of Philippine church history in a negative light. Shadows there were aplenty, for sure, but these seem to obscure the lights that are so much more illuminating.
Second, the call to follow Christ through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience must be renewed and deepened in religious life. As described in the Essential Elements of Religious Life, living the evangelical counsel of chastity is their testimony to hope since it is “a sign of the future life and a source of abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart for the Kingdom of God”.[iv] The evangelical counsel of poverty, in imitation of Christ who lived a life of poverty and who showed preferential love for the poor, invites those in consecrated life to a deeper integration of how they embody this vow in fact and in spirit as religious during this Year of the Poor. The evangelical counsel of obedience calls them to pattern their lives after Christ who surrendered His whole life following the will of the Father until death. Thus, the evangelical counsels express not only their public consecration in the Church, but also form their identity, lifestyle and mission as religious today.
A Joyful Response
Third, a joyful response with other Church groups in the work of evangelization must characterize religious life. Pope Francis observed that “wherever there are consecrated people, seminarians, men and women religious, young people, there is joy, there is always joy! It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus; the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us, not the joy of the world.”[v] This joy which sustained our missionaries in the past continues to this day as our religious participate in the ministries of the various dioceses: schools, parishes, orphanages, hospitals, youth centers, catechetical centers, etc. The religious in our country are not only active in the administration of the various spiritual and corporal acts of mercy but are courageous in defending human rights, as their predecessors did before them. Increasing number of religious are now sent as missionaries to other countries, including places where their institutions were born in Europe and the Americas.
Fourthly, an important service of consecrated people to the church is their witness to the importance of Christ in our life as based in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. May all the faithful be challenged by the religious that Christ can fill up our life with joy and he is the reason of service to the world.
So as we remember with gratitude the past and embrace the future with hope, we look toward Mary, model of consecrated life who remembered the great acts of salvation and who always hoped in God’s gracious providence in her heart. May she who gave birth to the Holy Child Jesus (the Santo Niño) in Bethlehem and who followed Jesus to Calvary be the constant inspiration and guide of our men and women in consecrated life as they live out joyfully their religious consecration in the Church today!
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of thePhilippines, January 22, 2015
(SGD)+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan