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The Start of Evangelization

Although the Christian faith arrived in the Philippines in 1521, an organized program of evangelizations only began in 1565 with the Augustinians accompanying Legazpi’s expedition. They were followed by Franciscans (1578), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587), and Augustinian Recollects (1606).

An Approach to Mission. The Spanish system of the Patronato Real (royal patronage) facilitated the implementation of an evangelization program.  Under this arrangement, the Spanish crown gave financial support and protection to the Church in the Philippines while exercising a large measure of control over its activities.  Missionaries traveled to the Philippines in the king’s ships.  While engaged in mission work, they were entitled to a stipend from the colonial government.

On the other hand, the appointment of missionaries to a parish or mission station was subject to the approval of the governor as vice-patron.  In fact, it was Philip II himself who determined that each missionary group should have its own section of the country for evangelization purposes.  

The early missionaries often sought to protect the natives from the abuses of the conquistadors and local officials; they had a vigorous leader in Fray Domingo de Salazar, OP, the first bishop of the Philippines. The synod that he summoned in 1582 clarified many difficult problems regarding the conquest, settlement, and administration of the country in accordance with Christian ideals.

An Option for Justice. The Philippine Church of the sixteenth century certainly took sides, and it was not with the rich and powerful nor with their fellow Spaniards, but with those who were oppressed and victims of injustice.  Philippine Church historian Schumacher notes: “Skeptics have often questioned the reality of the rapid conversion of sixteenth century Filipinos.  If one wishes the answer, it is to be found right here, that the Church as a whole took the side of the poor and the oppressed, whether the oppressors were Spaniards or Filipino principales.”

Mission Methods. The Spanish missionaries in the Philippines employed a variety of approaches to evangelization.  The scattered clan villages were gathered together into larger communities (pueblos, cabeceras); often this implied radical lifestyle changes and hence could only be accomplished with difficulty and very gradually.  

Religious instruction was given in native languages, as few Filipinos outside the Intramuros area of Manila were ever able to use Spanish with any proficiency. In most missions, primary schools supplied the new Christian communities with catechists and local officials.  Religion was made to permeate society by substituting liturgical and paraliturgical observances (fiestas, processions, novenas) for the traditional rites and festivals; pious associations of prayer and charity were promoted.  Many of these elements are manifested in Filipino religiosity today. 


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