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The Catholic Church in the Philippinesmarker ( ; ) is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Romemarker. With about 81% of the 90 million people (2009 estimate) who are Roman Catholic (approximately 72.9 million), the Philippines holds the distinction of being the third-largest Catholic nation in the world after Brazilmarker and Mexicomarker, as well as the only other predominantly Catholic nation in Asia aside from East Timormarker. The Roman Catholic primate of the Philippines is traditionally the archbishop of Manila. The current archbishop is Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. His see is at the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conceptionmarker in Intramurosmarker, Manilamarker.

Ecclesiastical territories

The administration of the Catholic Church in the Philippines is organized into sixteen Ecclesiastical Provinces, seven Apostolic Vicariates and a Military Ordinariate. Additionally, the sixteen Provinces are subdivided into into 72 dioceses.

Image:Roman Catholic Archdioceses in the Philippines.PNG|Map of the Philippinesmarker showing the different archdioceses.Image:Roman Catholic Apostolic Vicariates in the Philippines.PNG|Map of the Philippinesmarker showing the different apostolic vicariates.

Ecclesiastical Provinces

Apostolic Vicariates

Spanish Colonial History

The first missionaries

Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had three major goals for the occupation of the Philippine islands. One was to colonize the Philippines and participate in the spice trade that was at the time dominated by Portugal. Secondly, Spain wanted to utilize the geographical location of the Philippines to trade with China and Japan and to spread Christianity to those advanced civilizations. Thirdly, one of Spain’s main goals was to Christianize the people of the archipelago.

While many history books claim that the first mass in the archipelago was done on Easter Sunday of 1521, there are other claims that there are evidences that it was done elsewhere. Some books claim that this was done on the same day in a little island near the present day Bukidnon Province. Still, there are legends that say that Saint Francis Xavier, on his way to Japan stopped at an island belonging to the present day Panggasinan, which was way before the real entry of the Spaniards in the country.

But to claim or assert is not to prove. And legends are fiction with no pretensions to fact. And to say "there are evidences" without actually citing these is no better than to assert without proof.

There is only one recorded Christian mass in the Philippines that is provable, and this was the Easter Sunday mass held at the island-port named Mazaua on March 31, 1521. This incident was recorded by the Vicentine diarist Antonio Pigafetta.

All other claims on the first mass on Philippine soils remain unproven and some unprovable assertions unsupported by fact, authority, citation, evidence.

The Legazpi expedition of 1565 marked the beginning of the Hispanization of the Philippines. This expedition was an effort to occupy the islands with as little bloodshed and conflict as possible, ordered by Phillip II. Regretful bloodshed in Mexico and Peru motivated him to exercise pacifism during these campaigns. Lieutenant Legazpi was in charge of making peace with the natives and through swift military conquest, he set up colonies.

Under the encomienda system, the Filipinos had to pay tribute to the encomendero of the area and in return the encomendero taught them the ways of the Christian faith and also protected them from enemies. Although Spain had used this system before, it was not working quite as effectively for the Filipinos as it did in America. The missionaries were not as successful in converting the natives as they had hoped under the encomienda system. In 1579, Bishop Salazar and other clergymen were outraged for the encomenderos had abused their powers left and right. Although the natives were resistant, they could not band together to conspire a collective revolt towards the Spaniards for geographical reasons, linguistic differences, and mutual indifference.

Changes in Filipino culture

The Spaniards had observed the natives’ lifestyle and disagreed with it wholeheartedly. Through their Christian eyes, they saw the influence of the devil and felt the need to liberate the natives from their evil ways. Over time, geographical limitations have shifted the natives into what are called barangays, which are small kinship units consisting of about 30 to 100 families. Each barangay, like other societies, had a class system. The patriarchal chieftains were called datus. The maharlika were the nobles and the timagua were freemen. The servile were a dependent class that was mistook for as slaves by the Spaniards. The subclasses varied in every other barangay. Intermarriage was of freemen and the dependent class was permitted, which created a more complex, but flexible system of land privileges and labor services. Barangays were usually in conflict with each other and hostility was prevalent. This was the system the Spaniards tried to subdue in their justification that the dependent class were an oppressed group. Although they failed at completely suppressing the system, they worked with it while applying their own stratagem.

Religion and marriage were also issues that the missionaries of Spain wanted to transform. Polygamy was not uncommon, but only wealthy chieftains had this privilege. Divorce and remarriage were also common as long as reasons were justified. Illness, infertility, or a better potential spouse was justified reasons for divorce. Along with those practices, missionaries also disagreed with the practices of paying dowries, and payment of “bride-price” and “bride-service,” in which the groom paid his future father-in-law gold or offered labor services before the marriage. Missionaries had disapproved of these because they felt bride-price was an act of selling one’s daughter and labor services in the household of the father allowed for premarital relations between bride and groom, which contradicted Christian beliefs. Pre-conquest religion of the natives consisted of monotheistic and polytheistic cults. Bathala (Tagalog – central Luzon) or Laon (Bisayan – central islands) was the ultimate creator above other inferior gods and goddesses. Natives also worshipped nature and prayed to the spirits of their ancestors to whom they also made sacrifices. Mostly men practiced ritualistic drinking and many rituals performed aimed at cure for a certain illness. Magic and superstition also existed among the natives. The Spaniards claimed to liberate the natives from their wicked practices and show them the right path to God.

In 1599, negotiation began between a number of chieftains and their freemen and the Spaniards. The natives agreed to submit to the rule of a Castilian king and in return, the natives were indoctrinated into Christianity and were protected from their enemies, mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Muslim pirates. However, the conquest and conversion efforts were neither as easy nor as negotiable as this contract. The missionaries faced many obstacles and successes along the path to Christianization.

Difficulties in spreading Christianity

Several factors hindered the Spaniards' efforts to spread Christianity throughout the archipelago. An inadequate number of missionaries on the island made it difficult to reach all the people and harder to convert them. This is also due to the fact that the route to the Philippines was in itself a rigorous task and some clergy never had the opportunity to step foot on the islands. Some clergy fell ill or waited years for their chance to take the journey, or for some the climate difference once they arrived was unbearable. Other missionaries desired to go to Japan or China instead to spread their faith, or were more interested in mercantilism. The Spaniards also quarreled with the Chinese population in the Philippines. The Chinese had set up shops in what was called the Parian or bazaar during the 1580s to trade silk and other goods for Mexican silver. The Spaniards anticipated revolts from the Chinese and therefore, were under constant suspicion. The Spanish government and conquest were also highly dependent on this silver because it supported the necessities to run the government in Manila, the main city, and to continue Christianization. The most difficult obstacles facing the missionaries were the dispersion of the Filipinos and their seemingly endless varieties of languages and dialects. The geographical isolation forced them into numerous small villages and every other province supported a different dialect.

Evangelism was done in the native language. Doctrina Christiana is a book of prayers in Tagalog published in the 16th century. When, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi set up the colonial system beginning 1565, he implemented an encomienda system where a native could acquire land if he underwent baptism and registered as a Catholic. Massive conversion occurred at this time.

The Orders and their task

Being not only the largest Christian nation in Asia, but also third largest Catholic nation in the world, the Philippines is home to many of the world's major religious congregations. Today, these congregations include the Augustinian, Augustinian Recollects, Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans and many others.

The four regular orders who were assigned to Christianize the natives were the Augustinians, who came with Legazpi, the Discalced Franciscans (1578), the Jesuits (1581), and the Dominican friars (1587). In 1594, all had agreed to cover a specific area of the archipelago to deal with the vast dispersion of the natives. The Augustinians and Franciscans mainly covered the Tagalog country while the Jesuits had a small area. The Dominicans encompassed the Parian. The provinces of Pampanga and Ilokos were assigned to the Augustinians. The province of Camarines went to the Franciscans. The Augustinians and Jesuits were also assigned the Visayan islands. The Christian conquest had not reached the Mindanao province due to a highly resistant Muslim community that existed pre-conquest.

The task of the Spanish missionaries, however, was far from complete. By the seventeenth century, the Spaniards had created about 20 large villages and almost completely transformed the native lifestyle. For their Christian efforts, the Spaniards justified their actions by claiming that the small villages were a sign of barbarism and only bigger, more compact communities allowed for a richer understanding for Christianity. The Filipinos did not face much coercion; the Spaniards knew that rituals were inviting for the natives. The layout of these villages was in gridiron form that allowed for easier navigation and more order. They were also spread far enough to allow for one cabecera or capital parish and small visita chapels located throughout the villages in which clergy only stayed temporarily for mass, rituals, or nuptials.

Filipino resistance

The Filipinos, to an extent, did resist because they felt an agricultural obligation and connection with their rice fields. They felt that the large villages took away their resources and they feared the compact environment. This also took away from the encomienda system that depended on land, therefore, the encomenderos lost tributes. However, the missionaries continued their efforts to convert the natives to the Christian faith. Their strategy was to take children of the chieftains and put them under intense education in religious doctrines and the Spanish language so that they in turn could convert their fathers and eventually native followers would emulate their leader. Between 1578 and 1609, missionaries saw an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude from the natives and saw more converts than ever.

Despite the progress of the Spaniards, it took many years for the natives to truly grasp key concepts of Christianity. In Catholicism, the four main sacraments attracted the natives but only for ritualistic reasons and they did not fully alter the native lifestyle as the Spaniards had hoped. Baptism attracted the natives because they believed it cured ailments. The sacrament of Holy Matrimony was a concept many natives could not understand and had violated the sanctity of monogamy. The Filipinos, however, were allowed to keep the tradition of the dowry and was accepted into law. “Bride-price” and “bride-service” was not observed by the Spaniards, but were performed by natives despite its claim to heresy. Penance is the sacrament of confession and required everyone to confess once a year. The clergy used a bilingual text aid called confessionario to help the Filipinos understand the meaning of confession and what they had to confess. They were, at first, apprehensive to the concept and then, gradually used penance as a way to excuse their excessive actions throughout the year. The sacrament of communion was given out selectively for this was one of the most important sacraments that the missionaries did not want the natives to risk violating.

American occupation

See also Separation of church and state in the Philippines.
The American government (1898-1946) implemented the separation of Church and state. Many American friars, Jesuits and other Catholic religious orders as well as Protestant denominations have settled established themselves. William Howard Taft fully implemented policies on the Church. Ironically, when Apolinario Mabini put to vote, church and state separation at the Malolos Congress of 1898, the separation won by only a slight margin despite strong anti-friarcy sentiments.

At this same time, due to sentiments for independence, independent churches emerged such as the Aglipayan Church (which later aligned themselves with the Anglicans) and the Iglesia ni Kristo. This separation continues after independence in 1946 to the present day.

Devotion to Mary

Along with the saints, the Philippines has shown a strong devotion to Blessed Virgin Mary. This is evidenced by Mary being the patroness of various towns throughout the countryside. Particularly, there are pilgrimage sites where each town has created their own versions of Mary. With Spanish regalia, indigenous stories of belief and faith, and facial features unique to the local area, the Catholics have created images that are uniquely Filipino. With the devotion of the regional populace, these images have been recognized by various popes. Various popes have recognized the cultural and religious impacts of these images. They have generally bestowed blessings through a Canonical Coronation, and Basilica status of the local church. Below are some pilgrimage sites and the year they received a canonical blessing:

Post-Colonial History

Fiestas and religious holidays

Roman Catholic holy days, such as Christmas, Good Friday, etc. are observed as official national holidays. Spanish-Mexican Culture and Catholicism has significantly influenced culture and traditions. On the 3rd Sunday of January the country celebrates the festival of the Santo Niño de Cebú, the largest being held in Cebu Citymarker with the celebration of the Sinulog Festival. However, other areas such as Kalibo, Aklan are also known for their own celebration known as the Ati-Atihan and in Iloilo Citymarker they celebrates on the 4th Sunday of January as the Dinagyang.

With regards to Holidays of Obligations, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has granted dispensation on all faithful who will not attend masses on these days, except on December 8 (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Principal Patroness of the Archipelago), December 25 (Christmas Day), and January 1 (Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God).

In 2001 also, the same Conference approved a reform in the liturgical calendar, which included the Feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupemarker, Maximilian Kolbe, Rita of Cascia, Ezequiel Moreno and many others in its list of obligatory memorials.

Catholic Charismatic Renewal

A number of Catholic Charismatic Renewal movements emerged vis-a-vis the Born-again movement during the 70s. The Charismatic movement offered Life-In-the-Spirit seminars in the early days which have now evolved and have different names. These seminars focus on the Charismas or gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some of the Charismatic movements were the Assumption Prayer Group, Couples for Christ and the El Shaddai. Charismatic movements profess to be ecumenical, similar to the evangelical and Pentecostal Christians; in fact, many non-Catholic Christians also join this movement. Even though the movement is ecumenical, majority of its adherents are Catholics, in addition, leaders and speakers in these groups are sometimes Catholic priests.

Neocatechumenal Way

The Neocatechumenal Way in the Philippines has been established for more than twenty-five years. The Neocatechumenal communities number more than seven hundred and are found all over the Philippines with main concentrations in Luzon (Manila) and the Visayan Islands, especially in Panay, particularly IloIlo province with over 120 communities. This faith-based initiative which centres on rediscovering the Baptism has spread rapidly in the Philippines and has the strongest presence in Asia and one of the strongest presences in the World. A Neocatechumenal Diocesan Seminary, known as a Redemptoris Mater Seminary is also present in Manila, as well as many families in mission in many of the Philippine Islands. The Neocatechumenal Way is a reality within the Roman Catholic Church and its efforts are mostly concentrated on evangelization initiatives. It is under the authority of the local Bishop. Membership in the Philippines now exceeds 25,000 persons.

Papal visits


The Catholic Church is involved in education at all levels. It founded and sponsors hundreds of secondary and primary schools as well as a number of colleges and internationally known universities. Ateneo de Manila Universitymarker, a Jesuit university, is listed as one of the "World's Best Colleges and Universities" in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.

Church Influence on Government

As of 2005, the government espouses freedom and equality among all religions in the Philippines. However, most of the population (83%) are baptised Catholics, with 68% of the entire population attending Catholic Mass weekly.

The Catholic Church has great influence on Philippine society and politics. One typical event is the role of the Catholic hierarchy during the bloodless People Power Revolution of 1986. Then Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the public to march along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue and force dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to step down which occurred after seven million people responded.

In 2001, Cardinal Sin expressed his dismay over the allegations of corruption against Philippine president Joseph Estrada. His call sparked the second EDSA Revolution dubbed as "EDSA Dos". Estrada resigned after 5 continuous days of protest.

On the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared three days of national mourning. She attended the Pope's funeral in the Vatican.

Recent political turmoil in the Philippines widened the rift between the state and the Church. Arroyo's press secretary Ignacio Bunye called the bishops and priests who attended an anti-Arroyo protest as hypocrites and 'people who hide their true plans'. Yet many still await Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on this issue. Arroyo professes to be a devout Catholic.

See also


  1. " Apostle Endangered". Time, December 7, 1970. Retrieved April 13, 2007
  2. Philippines: Pope too busy to visit, says Manila archbishop
  4. Study identifies worldwide rates of religiosity, church attendance

External links

This article incorporates material from the U.S. Library of Congress and is available to the general public.

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