Miag-ao Church, Iloilo
The Spanish colonizers in the late 16th century not only brought their culture with them but also the seeds of the Catholic faith. The missionaries who went with the expeditions of the would-be Spanish colonizers were the Augustinian friars. They accomplished many significant firsts in the history of the Philippines. It was an Augustinian who officiated the first Catholic mass in Limasawa (Mazua). It was also an Augustinian who baptized the first native converts of Catholicism upon their arrival in Cebu. It was, furthermore, the Augustinians who built the Santo Niño Church in Cebu. It was they who fanned out from Cebu to the other islands of the archipelago, including Panay.
Th Augustinian missionaries, Fr. Martin de Rada and Father Diego de Herrera, laid the foundation of Catholicism in Panay in 1569. These two servants of God went with the Spanish expedition to the islands to look for a safer place due to the danger of the Dutch attacking them in Cebu. Upon their arrival in Panay, the two missionaries took in the whole island as their religious mission. Despite the initial suspicion and indifference of the Panayanons, gradually the two priests were able to stay long in Panay due to the demand for their presence in the other parts of the archipelago.
In 1571, Fr. Juan de Alva and Fr. Francisco Merino were assigned by the Augustinian order to Panay. Actually, Fr. Alva had already visited the island, having gone with Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1569 for a look at the place. The two priests picked up the work left unfinished by Fathers Rada and Herrera.
Oton was the first beneficiary of the works of the Augustinian missionaries. It was declared as the Augustinian first official convent and dedicated it to the Immaculate Conception. The first parish priest was Fr. Alonso de Alvarado. Father de Rada had built a church in that town and was considered to be the first in Panay. However, it was Fr. Demetrio Cobos who laid plans for a stronger and bigger church to be made of stone. But, unfortunately, Father Cobos was not able to see the end of the construction that he started, for it took forty years to finish the project. It was eventually completed under the supervision of Fr. Joaquin Fernandez.
As the years passed, more Augustinian missionaries came to Panay, increasing the number of those who were already present in the island. From Oton they proceeded to Tigbauan, then to Janiuay and other places. More churches were constructed. The parish of Jaro was founded in 1587. The Augustinians penetrated deeper into the interior sections of the island founding the parish of Guimbal (1590), Passi (1593), Pototan, (1600), Dingle (1630), Cabatuan (1720), Anilao (1734), San Joaquin (1793) and many more. They also crossed over to Antique creating the parishes of San Jose (1725), Bugasong (1726), Sibalom (1740) and Patnongon (1761). In Capiz they had Dumarao (1581), Pan-ay (1580), and Dumalag (1596). They founded many more and put up churches through the material assistance and labors of the natives. But Panay was not to stay long for under the custody of the Augustinian priests. After having prepared the way for the Catholic faith and having established a foothold in the island, the Augustinians left for other places where their talents and patience for pioneering work were urgently needed.
BRIDGING THE GAP
By Henry F. Funtecha
ID111 – 20120925