General History · Philippines

Augustinians: first Catholic missionaries in the Philippines

If the greatest missionary work of the Augustinian Order has been displayed in the Philippines, it is because they were the first Catholic missionaries there.

Father Andres de Urdaneta and four other Augustinians — Fathers Martín de Rada (b. 1533 – d. 1578), Diego de Herrera, Pedro de Gamboa and Andrés de Aguirre — started a successful apostolate in Cebú as soon as they landed in 1565.

Legazpi founded the first Spanish settlement there in a spot where his men had stumbled upon a statue of the Child Jesus in a burnt hut after a skirmish with the native inhabitants to impose Spanish sovereignty. He named the place Villa del Santísimo Nombre de Jésus in honor of the Holy Child. The Spaniards considered it miraculous to have found the statue, a gift from Ferdinand Magellan to the wife of the chieftain of Cebu after her conversion to Catholicism in 1521. Father Urdaneta returned to Mexico and decided to stay after being dissuaded by his family and friends.

Meanwhile, hardships brought about by lack of food, harsh living conditions and probing attacks mounted by the Portuguese from the Moluccas forced Legazpi to set sail for Panay island, where he replenished his supplies and planned for a definitive voyage to Luzon that would eventually lead to over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines with the establishment of Manila on June 24, 1571 as the capital of the new Spanish colony.

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