The Philippine Church has been so busy with the preparation for the 500th anniversary of the coming of the Gospel to the country since the year 2012 by assigning themes to each year, i.e., 2012 Year of Faith…2021 Year of Interreligious Dialogue, Ecumenism and Indigenous People. The CBCP prepared activities to highlight the Quinticentennial celebration as an occasion for New Evangelization.
We Franciscans, also feel so excited with the CBCP, and participate in our houses, schools, parishes, etc...without realizing that 2021 is doubly significant for us because 2021 is not only the 500 anniversary of the coming of the Gospel to the Philippines but also the 800 anniversary of that document which inspired the Franciscans to come to the Philippines and participated in the planting of the seed of the Gospel in the Philippine soil, the Rule of 1221, particularly Chapter 16 of the Rule.
We do not show much excitement about Francis’ Rule of 1221, perhaps because it is not anyway the definitive Rule that we pronounce when we make solemn vows but the Rule of 1223. Yes, that is true, but the Rule of 1223 developed from the Propositum vitae of 1209 and from the Regula non bullata or Earlier Rule, the other names of the Rule of 1221. “Unbulled,” “earlier,” “a paste-work,” it might be, but the Rule of 1221 contains Francis’ un-glossed, pristine ideals—more biblical (more saturated with Biblical passage especially the “go and sell and give to the poor (Mt. 19:21)” “take nothing for your journey (Lk. 9:3),” and “deny yourself (Mt. 16:24);” less juridical, that is, without the glossing and hands and minds of canon lawyers and experts of religious life; the Rule of 1221 has very much of Francis’ candidness, simplicity, and intimacy with God, and worth “revisiting,” like visiting an ancestor, a root, at least, during its 8th centenary.
1221: 5th Centennial of the Coming of the Gospel to the Philippines
Yes, indeed, the Year 2021 will be a special year in the Philippine Catholic Church, for it will be the 5th centenary of the coming of the Gospel to the Philippines; This is if we consider the first mass in the Philippines by Fray Pedro de Valderama, OSA in Limasawa on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521, as the very first moment of the Gospel’s entry into Philippine soil; When the Gospel according to John (Jn 20:1-8) was proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word at the Limasawa Easter Day mass and in another mass in Cebu, then called Sugbu, on April 14 during which the wife of King Humabon was baptized Juana, and Humabon himself, Carlos, along with 800 natives, after which Magellan planted a large wooden cross on the shore of Sugbu, then gave Queen Juana an image of the Child Jesus as a gift. The Gospel, the Cross, the image of the Child Jesus, Santo Nino, symbols of Philippine Christianity, came to the archipelago on that April day in 1221. Hence, 2021 is the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity into the archipelago. In 2021, the Philippines will celebrate the coming of the Gospel or, indeed, the Christianization of the Philippines.
(Note: the islands were not yet then called Philippine Islands or The Philippines but Mayi. It was only 1546 when Ruy Lopez de Villalobos came and named the archipelago, Filipinas, to honor King Philip of Spain).
It was, however, not a Franciscan who first brought (read or proclaimed) the Gospel for the first time on the archipelago or Christianized the Ma-yi but Magellan’s voyage chaplain, Fray Pedro de Valderama. OSA, an Augustinian. It was an OSA, not an OFM who baptized the native queen, “Juana,” and the king “Carlos” and the 800 natives who were virtually, the first Christian Catholics in Ma-yi or Philippines but an Augustinian. The Augustinians came to the Philippines as full-force missionaries in 1565.
Philip II, after whom the Philippines was named (Islas de Felipinas) was the Spanish Monarch enjoying the provisions of the Omnimoda, had been receiving letters from the Philippines asking for missionaries, preferably Franciscan missionaries.
The Philippine missions was formed by the friars from the Spanish province of the Discalced family, a branch of the Observants. We must recall that the Observants were more itinerant (more missionary) than their twin brothers, the Conventuals which were more settled in their big convents, and still among the Obervants, more itinerant and missionary were its Discalced or Alcantarine brothers, the ones who made missions to the Philippines in the mid-sixteenth century.
The founder and organizer of the of the Philippine mission was a lay brother, Antonio de San Gregorio, Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Minister General Christopher Capitefontium to give Brother Antonio letter of obedience to be able to work with the Commissionary of the Indies to recruit competent missionaries. The first missionaries (fifteen of them) with Fray Pedro de Alfaro as custos, finally left Seville, Spain on June 24, 1578. They left for the Philippines with a stop-over in Mexico. They arrived in the Philippines on July 2, 1578 (two friars disembarked at Port Ibalon in Bicol and walked all the way to Manila).
They were received by the Augustinians in Intramuros (walled city); Moved to their own residence which they dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels in Intramusos on August 1, 1578. They then moved to their first settlement outside Manila (Intramuros), Santa Ana de Sapa and spread out to Paco, Pandacan, Quiapo, Makati, and San Francisco del Monte,
Though they were not the first to bring in the message of the Gospel to the Philippines, like the Augustinians who first came, the Franciscans had contributed so much in the planting and rooting the Gospel in the Philippine soil. After consultations with the Augustinians, the first Franciscan missionaries were distributed to the following missions: To Northern Philippines (Provinces of the Ilocos and Pangasian) went Juan Bautista and Sebastian de Bessa; to the islands of Panay and Cebu, Pedro Munique, and Alonzo de Jesus; to the Provinces around Laguna de Bay, Juan de Placensia and Diego de Oropesa; to the Province of Batangas, Juan e Poras and Esteban Ortiz; to the Province of Camarines and the whole of the Bicol Region, Pablo de Jesus and Bartome Ruiz.
So, the Franciscans acquired most of the missions situated along the shores of Laguna (lake) de Bay and entire Camarines Province of the Bicol region which became exclusively Franciscan. Historians say, “the credit for bringing the only Catholic nation in the Far East into the Church is shared by this Franciscan missionaries and other missionary orders working in the same field. To note, the Augustinians, the first missionaries to have arrived with Legaspi in Cebu came in 1565, the Dominicans came in 1579, the Jesuits in 1581, the Augustinian Recollects in 1606.
The Rule of 1221 and the Franciscan Mission to the Philippines
Although “O.F.M.” stand for Order of Friars Minor” what many mistakes as “Order of Franciscan Missionaries” in essence is really correct. When Francis heard of the Gospel of Mt. 10, 9-15 on the mission of the apostles read at the Portiuncula in 1208, he joyfully exclaimed “This is what I wish, this is what I wish, this is what I long do with all my life,” the Order was born as a “missionary movement.” In 1209, he received a mandate from Innocent III who orally approved his Rule “to go and preach penance to all.” In 1212, Francis started his missionary attempts to travel to the East. In 1218 he traveled to Catholic lands, and in 12 19 to Non-Catholic lands. In 1219, Francis went to Egypt, with one companion, managed to go through Damietta and came to the presence of the Sultan. He had not suffered martyrdom but the enterprise was successful—the Franciscan mission to dialogue was permanently established.
As the result of his missionary journeys, Francis wrote in Chapter 16 of his Rule of 1221 the so-called “Missionary Statute of the Order” that formed the sense of mission and the missionary conscience of the whole Order he founded. What really moved the Franciscans to come to the Philippines and contributed substantially in the planting of the Gospel, the seed of Christianity in the Philippines was the sense of mission that had been embedded in their consciousness by Chapter 16 of the Rule of 1221 composed by St. Francis of Assisi. Historians say that it is their missionary vocation which is “very much in keeping the spirit of the Rule (1221)” that made the Franciscans go to the mission lands, particularly the Philippine Islands.
Therefore, what ultimately moved the first Franciscan missionaries to come to the Philippines was the Rule of 1221 with the sense of mission it embedded in into the heart of every Franciscan. We must consider the Rule of 1221 of great value in connection with the coming and proclamation of the Gospel in Philippine soil, for without its chapter of mission no Franciscan mission would have ever taken place, no Franciscan missionary would have ever come to the Philippines and contributed in the planting of the seed of Christianity in the archipelago: in the Ilocos, Pangasinan, Panay, Cebu, Laguna, Batangas, Camarines and the entire Bicol Region.
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