History of the Custody
The Custody of St. Anthony of Padua, Philippines (CSAPP) is replete with surprises of all levels, successes as well as failures, though from our Christian point of view are preludes and first step to success. Though historically the CSAPP came into existence only in 2007, the roots of its presence in the global Franciscan history goes back almost 450 years.
Briefly, it started with the coming of the first friars in 1578. They were Discalced Franciscans, followers of the reform introduced in 1553 by St. Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562), which was approved by the Pope. It was a reform that aimed to return to the origins of the Franciscan charism and life, founded on prayer, particularly contemplation; strict living of poverty expressed in the simplicity of life; penance, care for the sick and the poor, and dedication to missions. It was not simply a return to the origins of Franciscan life, but to the very roots of Christianity lived in the early Christian communities, ultimately a return to the Gospel.
It was the inspiration of their Alcantarine background that the friars right from their arrival in 1578, that their view of evangelization was not limited to preaching the Good News, but it was holistic, involving the care for the sick, dedication to prayer and working for the indigenous peoples of their time, not by imposing on them the Spanish language,
but for them to learn and promote the native languages as an expression of inculturation. This method was endorsed by the First Synod of Manila in 1581, thus becoming the policy to be followed by the other missionaries (Augustians (1565), Jesuits (1581), Dominicans (1587) Augustinian Recollects (1611), the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God (1611) that came in the first 50 years of evangelization. The friars who came to the Philippines became the Santa y Apostolica Provincia de San Gregorio Magno de Filipinas in 1586, and throughout the Spanish Colonial Period, that is, until the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the friars who worked in the country were of the Alcantarine mold, even if the fervor of the first decades might have grown less in the next centuries.
After 1896, most of the about 481 friars in the country, administering more than 200 parishes and institutions at that time, left and only 70 remained to form a Commisariate, an entity that no longer exists in the terminology of the Order. The seat of the Province was transferred to Castilla, in Spain. This exodus might have also been influenced by the decree of Pope Leo XII in 1897 to merge the Alcantarines, Franciscan Recollects, Reformati, and others into one Order under the biggest group of the time, the Observants, that then became the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) of today.
When the United States of America took over from Spain after the Spanish American War of 1898, the Comissariate continued the pastoral ministry in Manila (Intramuros, San Francisco del Monte, Santa Ana, Loreto and later the adjoining chapel of the Secular Franciscan Order, the chaplaincy of the Poor Clares) and the few parishes in Laguna, Tayabas, Bicol and Samar. After World War II, some (arch)dioceses invited Franciscan entities in
Europe (St. Anthony Province of Venice, Italy, for the north), and the USA (Sta. Barbara, California for Negros Oriental; St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati, for Leyte and Biliran; and Assumption, Wisconsin, for Western Samar).
In the 1960s, the Minister General Augustine Sepinski, OFM sent friar Luis Contreras of Colombia and former missionary in China as General Visitator with the task of merging the five entities in the country. This started with the construction of a common seminary, the Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (OLAS), where all entities collaborated with funds and personnel. The seminary opened in 1962, with the presence of the Minister General Sepinski, OFM, the first time the OFM Minister General ever visited Asia. Shortly after the entities merged to form the Vicariate of San Pedro Bautista in the 1970s, with Silvestre Murillo of the Spanish group as first vicar. Though the mission of St. John the Baptist from Cincinnati, USA, did not join at the time, it helped with personnel and funds, and joined eventually. The Vicariate became the Province of San Pedro Bautista in 1983, with Bienvenido Baisas, OFM as the first provincial appointed by the General Curia together with the Definitory.
In the 1990s, some friars brought up the idea of having a separate entity for the south (Visayas and Mindanao), as the Order had started to be present in the mostly Moslem island of Mindanao since 1983, and also for the purpose of better administration and communication. After subsequent studies of the feasibility of the project, the General Definitory approved on March 22, 2007, the erection of the Autonomous Custody of St. Anthony of Padua in the Philippines from a section of the Province of San Pedro Bautista, which already had communities in the region, which included a hospital, four schools and six parishes. After a secret straw balloting among the "members" of the new entity, the General Curia appointed the Definitory with Arturo Daquilanea, OFM who just ended his term as Provincial in 2006, as the first Custos of the southern entity.
The canonical erection of the Custody was made on June 4, 2007, by the Minister General Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM himself in the main church of the province, San Pedro Bautista
parish, Frisco, Q.C., and came into effect on June 13 to coincide with the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. The Custody was governed by the TRANSITORY NORMS in relation to the province. The norms had provisions regarding administration, the agreement regarding the division of assets and subsidy, the grace period for the members to decide within one year whether which of the two entities they would want to belong definitively. The force of the TRANSITORY NORMS lasted until January 30, 2014, when the General Definitory approved the Particular Statutes of the Custody.
With Ambrose Van Si, OFM as Visitator General, the first real Chapter of the Custody was in 2010, which elected Nello Bulawan, OFM Custos. The Chapter also accepted the three-year administration of the Holy Family Parish in Bulakanon, Makilala, N. Cotabato. Br. Nello, however, got seriously ill in the first weeks that an extraordinary Chapter of Elections was held on July 12 of that year, with Van Si presiding. Roberto Bayaras, OFM was elected. In this triennium the novitiate in Milagro, Ormoc City, was built and canonically erected on January 27, 2011. In June of that year Minister General Carballo made a canonical and fraternal visit to the Custody. In June the first community was established in Davao City, with the student friars enrolled in St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SAT-MI). On February 2012, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit Negros Oriental and brought great damage to the friaries and schools in Guihulngan and La Libertad.
With Eduardo Armenta, OFM as Visitator General, the second Chapter in 2013 elected Felix Jungco Jr., OFM, Custos. In October of that year while the friars were on retreat in the Franciscan Renewal Center (FRC), Minglanilla, Cebu, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit the provinces of Cebu and Bohol. Less than a month later came typhoon Hayan (Yolanda), the strongest in recorded history, with great destruction in many parts of the Visayas, including the newly constructed novitiate in Ormoc, Leyte. The Custodial House had a make-over and the property at the back was purchased. On September 17, 2015, the chapel in the novitiate was blessed, and the extension (annex) at the
back of the property in St. Bonaventure House of Studies in Davao was blessed on January 7, 2016. In the same month the Custody's Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization Manual was published, and in June the friary in FRC, extended for the elderly and sick, was also blessed.
The celebration of the 8th centenary of the Damietta Encounter was celebrated with great participation also by other Franciscan Families with an Opening in Tairan, Basilan, and also in Kidapawan and Baloi, among other places. Before his term ended, Arturo Daquilanea, OFM blessed the new Postulancy House that burnt down two years before in the FRC compound in Minglanilla and the finished renovated, three-storey St. Bonaventure House of Studies in Davao City.
With Eduardo Armenta, OFM doing a second appearance as Visitator General, the fourth Chapter in 2019 elected Renee C. Dean, OFM, Custos. The request for becoming a Province was put on hold until some things are cleared, while new ministries were introduced: Mass Media, Damietta as Center for Dialogue and the creation of an itinerant dialogue community, accepting the New Valencia Mission Station in Zamboanga del Sur, as well as the proposal for a Handbook of Financial Policies and developing the Franciscan Renewal Center in Minglanilla into the Franciscan Retirement Community for the sick and elderly. The novitiate was brought back to Ormoc from Josefina, while the place was under renovation, which then became the house for the Integration Year in preparation for final vows, and the construction of an Aspirancy House in the CKC compound was started.
Covid-19 hit the country in the first quarter of 2020, with a lockdown that started on March 14 for Luzon and the rest of the country with partial or modified community quarantines, a response that had its critics and supporters, and which has been going on for nearly 6 months. The programs, the changes, the protocols have gone through several makeovers that it is confusing to try to make good sense of what has been done or what to expect in the coming months.
The effects of the response to the virus have been felt particularly in the economy: 27.3 million filipinos are currently unemployed, some 72% (that is, between 250,000 to 450,000) of all micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) have either closed permanently or significantly downsized, which explains the unemployment rate. Meanwhile, infection rates of Covid-19 has been increasing by 2.2X every month since April, so that at this rate, infections will reach 650,000 by October and l.4 million by November ("The IATF needs new blood" by Andrew J. Masigan in The Corner Oracle, his column in the Opinion section of THE PHILIPPINE STAR, Wednesday, August 26, 2020, page 7).
This lockdown affected our income during the productive months of April-May, (Holy Week, Easter and fiestas) for our pastoral ministry with churches closed; graduation, summer classes, new school year for our schools, because of the economic situation, as ministries have to be downsized as well. With Masses streamed where possible and online classes are brought in with the opening of the school year moved three months, etc., etc., we will not be able to measure the total effects of the pandemic in our lives. The restrictions regarding travel affected the formation program and activities, while the Custodial Council, the ministries and offices have remained in contact through Zoom conferences to share individual and community responses and adjustments to the pandemic. Even the implementation of some of the 2019 Chapter Resolutions has been put on hold.
Other events that would have given the Order in these parts some boost like the visit of the Minister General in the first quarter of this year, the activities in EAC, the proposed General Chapter 2021 to be in Manila, and other such events have been cancelled. It is very likely that this situation with Covid-19 will remain for the rest of this triennium and beyond. The Custody's response to the situation has been founded on a deeper and more intense spiritual life and community bonding, even as we suffered the loss of Fr. Ronnie Asuero, OFM, last May 18, which resulted in a change of assignments. The launching at this time of our website by the Office of Media & Communications, headed by Bro. Mark Joy G. Basallajes, OFM, is intended primarily to make communication in the Custody ever updated, not only with regard to how we are coping with the pandemic, but also to give and receive strength and inspiration in our common brotherhood.
For all that has been, thanks; to all that will be, yes. Coeterum ambulemus in pace et mutua caritate. For the rest, may we walk (live) in peace and mutual charity.
Written by Antonio Maria Rosales, OFM
Custodial House, August 28, 2020.