Augustinian Churches · General History

Pattern of missionization of the Philippines by friars

Pattern of missionization of the Philippines by the friars

While the military paved the way, Catholicism completed its conquest of all but the southernmost islands of the archipelago. The missionary zeal of regular orders was crucial, trumping problems like local defiance, language gaps between the missionaries and communities, and lack of missionary manpower that plagued early evangelization efforts. Legaspi’s pilot and chaplain, Fray Andres de Urdaneta, led the charge, along with five other Augustinian fathers. Drawing from missionary experiences in the America, the Augustinians delayed baptisms until the candidates demonstrated at least some evidence of Christian knowledge.

In 1569, after reinforcements from Mexico arrived, the Augustinians took Cebu under their wing and, remembering the image of the Santo Nino recovered there, called the new Spanish settlement Santisimo Nombre de Jesus (the Most Holy Name of Jesus). The friars then followed Legazpi to Panay. Displaying commitment and dedication, an Augustinian, Fray Juan de Alba, subsequently learned the Hiligaynon language to aid in converting the populace. Meanwhile the seizure of Manila promted the friars also to proselytize in Luzon. Their eventual success heartened the Church to send more missionaries to the islands. Four orders joined the Augustinians: the Franciscan (1577), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587), and Recolects (1606). They divided the archipelago into spiritual jurisdictions – the Augustinians and Dominicans took northern and central Luzon; the Franciscans, southern Luzon; the Jesuits, southern Visayas and Mindanao; and the Recollects, northeast Luzon, its nethermost islands, northern Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao.

Missionization followed a regular pattern. Friars converted the local chief and his entourage, convinced that they would be followed by their constituencies. Friars then set up their mission, including a convent, church and school. They provided children with pre-baptismal instruction, to ensure that future members of the community were Catholics and sympathetic towards the Spanish. To earn the trust of potential converts, friars eschewed Spanish and conducted catechism in the local languages. Of course translation was not always feasible: Latin and Spanish words for concepts such as God, the Holy Spirit, and grace were retained where they had no equivalents in the vernacular tongues. Visual aids complemented the teaching: depictions of a fiery hell instilled fear among coverts, convincing them to remain faithful.[1]

 

[1] A New History of Southeast Asia By M.C. Ricklefs, Bruce Lockhart, Albert Lau, Portia Reyes, Maitrii Aung-Thwin, 88-89.

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