Catholic Church in the Philippines

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The Philippine Catholic Church, or Catholic Church in the Philippines (Template:Lang-fil; Template:Lang-es), is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual direction of the Pope and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The Philippines is one of the two nations in Asia having a substantial portion of the population professing the Catholic faith, along with East Timor, and has the third largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil and Mexico.[1] The episcopal conference responsible in governing the faith is the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

Christianity was first brought to the Philippine islands by Spanish missionaries and settlers, who arrived in waves beginning in the early 16th century in Cebu. Compared to the Spanish Era, when Christianity was recognized as the state religion, the faith today is practiced in the context of a secular state. In 2015, it was estimated that 84 million Filipinos, or roughly 82.9% to 85% of the population, profess the Catholic faith.[2][3]


Spanish Era

Starting in the 16th century Spanish explorers and settlers arrived in the Philippines with two major goals: to participate in the spice trade which was previously dominated by Portugal, and to evangelize to nearby civilizations, such as China. While many historians claim that the first Mass in the islands was held on Easter Sunday of 1521 on a small island near the present day Bukidnon Province, the exact location is disputed. A verified Mass was held at the island-port of Mazaua on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1521, as recorded by the Venetian diarist Antonio Pigafetta, who travelled to the islands in 1521 on the Spanish expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan.[4]

Later, the Legazpi expedition of 1565 that was organized from Mexico City marked the beginning of the Hispanisation of the Philippines, beginning with Cebu.[5] This expedition was an effort to occupy the islands with as little conflict as possible, ordered by Phillip II.[6] Lieutenant Legazpi set up colonies in an effort to make peace with the nativesTemplate:Cn and achieve swift conquest.

Naga Cathedral, metropolitan see of the Archdiocese of Caceres centered in Naga City.

Christianity expanded from Cebu when the remaining Spanish missionaries were forced westwards due to conflict with the Portuguese, and laid the foundations of the Christian community in the Panay between around 1560 to 1571. A year later the second batch of missionaries reached Cebu. The island became the ecclesiastical "seat" and the center for evangelization. Missionary Fray Alfonso Jimenez Template:Post-nominals travelled into the Camarines region through the islands of Masbate, Leyte, Samar, and Burias and centered the church on Naga City. He was named the first apostle of the region. By 1571 Fray Herrera, who was assigned as chaplain of Legazpi, advanced further north from Panay and founded the local Church community in Manila. Herrera travelled further in the Espiritu Santo and shipwrecked in Catanduanes, where he died attempting to convert the natives. In 1572, the Spaniards led by Juan de Salcedo marched north from Manila with the second batch of Augustinian missionaries and pioneered the evangelization in the Ilocos (starting with Vigan) and the Cagayan regions.[5]

Under the encomienda system, Filipinos had to pay tribute to the encomendero of the area, and in return the encomendero taught them the Christian faith and protected them from enemies. Although Spain had used this system in America, it did not work as effectively in the Philippines, and the missionaries were not as successful in converting the natives as they had hoped. In 1579, Bishop Salazar and clergymen were outraged because the encomenderos had abused their powers. Although the natives were resistant, they could not organise into a unified resistance towards the Spaniards, partly due to geography, ethno-linguistic differences.

Filipinas ready for church, 1905

Cultural impact

The Santo Niño de Cebú, the oldest Christian artefact in the Philippines. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan gave this statue to a Cebuano chieftain that converted to Christianity

The Spaniards were disapproving of the lifestyle they observed in the natives. They blamed the influence of the Devil and desired to "liberate the natives from their evil ways". Over time, geographical limitations had shifted the natives into barangays, small kinship units consisting of about 30 to 100 families.

Each barangay had a mutable caste system, with any sub-classes varying from one barangay to the next. Generally, patriarchal lords and kings were called datus and rajas, while the mahárlika were the knight-like freedmen and the timawa were freedmen. The alipin or servile class were dependent on the upper classes, an arrangement regarded as slavery by the Spaniards. Intermarriage between the timawa and the alipin was permitted, which created a more or less flexible system of privileges and labour services. The Spaniards attempted to suppress this class system based on their interpretation that the dependent, servile class were an oppressed group. They failed at completely abolishing the system, but instead eventually worked to use it to their own advantage.

Religion and marriage were also issues that the Spanish missionaries wanted to reform. Polygyny was not uncommon, but was mostly confined to wealthier chieftains. Divorce and remarriage were also common as long as the reasons were justified. Accepted reasons for divorce included illness, infertility, or a finding better potential to take as a spouse. The missionaries also disagreed with the practices of paying dowries, the "bride price" where the groom paid his father-in-law in gold, and "bride-service", in which the groom performed manual labour for the bride's family, a custom which persisted until the late 20th century. Missionaries disapproved of these because they felt bride-price was an act of selling one's daughter, and labour services in the household of the father allowed premarital sex between the bride and groom, which contradicted Christian beliefs.

Pre-conquest, the natives had followed a variety of monotheistic and polytheistic faiths, often localized forms of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Tantrism mixed with Animism. Bathala (Tagalog – Central Luzon) or Laon (Visayan) was the ultimate]] creator deity above subordinate gods and goddesses. Natives Filipinos also worshiped nature and venerated the spirits of their ancestors, whom they propitiated with sacrifices. There was ritualistic drinking and many rituals aimed to cure certain illnesses. Magic and superstition were also practised. The Spaniards saw themselves as liberating the natives from sinful practices and showing them the correct path to God.

In 1599, negotiation began between a number of lords and their freemen and the Spaniards. The native rulers agreed to submit to the rule of the Castilian king and convert to Christianity, and allow missionaries to spread the faith. In return, the Spaniards agreed to protect the natives from their enemies, mostly Japanese, Chinese, and Muslim pirates.


Magellan's Cross outside of the Basilica del Santo Niño, Cebu City. The Cross is a symbol of the introduction of Christianity to the islands.

Several factors slowed the Spaniards' attempts to spread Christianity throughout the archipelago. The low number of missionaries on the island made it difficult to reach all the people and harder to convert them. This was also due to the fact that the route to the Philippines was a rigorous journey, and some clergy fell ill or waited years for an opportunity to travel there. For others, the climate difference once they arrived was unbearable. Other missionaries desired to go to Japan or China instead and some who remained were more interested in mercantilism. The Spaniards also came into conflict with the Chinese population in the Philippines. The Chinese had set up shops in the Parian (or bazaar) during the 1580s to trade silk and other goods for Mexican silver. The Spaniards anticipated revolts from the Chinese and were constantly suspicious of them. The Spanish government was highly dependent on the influx of silver from Mexico and Peru, since it supported the government in Manila, to continue the Christianization of the archipelago.

The most difficult challenges for the missionaries were the dispersion of the Filipinos and the wide variety of languages and dialects. The geographical isolation forced the Filipino population into numerous small villages, and every other province supported a different language. Furthermore, frequent privateering from Japanese Wokou pirates and slave-raiding by Islamic Moros blocked Spanish attempts to Christianize the archipelago, and to offset the disruption of continuous warfare with them, the Spanish militarized the local populations, importing soldiers from Latin America, and constructed networks of fortresses across the islands.[7] As the Spanish and their local allies were in a state of constant war against pirates and slavers, the Philippines became a drain on the Vice-royalty of New Spain in Mexico City, which paid to maintaining control of Las Islas Filipinas in lieu of the Spanish crown.

Religious orders

The Philippines is home to many of the world's major religious congregations, these include the Redemptorists Augustinians, Recollects, Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, Carmelites, Divine Word Missionaries, De La Salle Christian Brothers, Salesians of Don Bosco, and the indigenous Religious of the Virgin Mary.

The five regular orders who were assigned to Christianize the natives were the Augustinians, who came with Legazpi, the Discalced Franciscans (1578), the Jesuits (1581), the Dominican friars (1587) and the Augustinian Recollects (simply called the Recoletos, 1606). In 1594, all had agreed to cover a specific area of the archipelago to deal with the vast dispersion of the natives. The Augustinians and Franciscans mainly covered the Tagalog country while the Jesuits had a small area. The Dominicans encompassed the Parian. The provinces of Pampanga and Ilokos were assigned to the Augustinians. The province of Camarines went to the Franciscans. The Augustinians and Jesuits were also assigned the Visayan islands. The Christian conquest had not reached Mindanao due to a highly resistant Muslim community that existed pre-conquest.

The task of the Spanish missionaries, however, was far from complete. By the seventeenth century, the Spaniards had created about 20 large villages and almost completely transformed the native lifestyle. For their Christian efforts, the Spaniards justified their actions by claiming that the small villages were a sign of barbarism and only bigger, more compact communities allowed for a richer understanding for Christianity. The Filipinos faced much coercion; the Spaniards knew little of native rituals. The layout of these villages was in gridiron form that allowed for easier navigation and more order. They were also spread far enough to allow for one cabecera or capital parish, and small visita chapels located throughout the villages in which clergy only stayed temporarily for Mass, rituals, or nuptials.

Indigenous resistance

The Filipinos to an extent resisted Christianisation because they felt an agricultural obligation and connection with their rice fields: large villages took away their resources and they feared the compact environment. This also took away from the encomienda system that depended on land, therefore, the encomenderos lost tributes. However, the missionaries continued their proselytising efforts, one strategy being targeting noble children. These scions of now-tributary monarchs and rulers were subjected to intense education in religious doctrine and the Spanish language, with the theory that they in turn could convert their elders, and eventually the nobleman's subjects.

Despite the progress of the Spaniards, it took many years for the natives to truly grasp key concepts of Christianity. In Catholicism, four main sacraments attracted the natives but only for ritualistic reasons, and they did not fully alter their lifestyle as the Spaniards had hoped. Baptism was believed to simply cure ailments, while Matrimony was a concept many natives could not understand and thus they violated the sanctity of monogamy. They were however, allowed to keep the tradition of dowry, which was accepted into law; "bride-price" and "bride-service" were practiced by natives despite labels of heresy. Confession was required of everyone once a year, and the clergy used the confessionario, a bilingual text aid, to help natives understand the rite's meaning and what they had to confess. Locals were initially apprehensive, but gradually used the rite to excuse excesses throughout the year. Communion was given out selectively, for this was one of the most important sacraments that the missionaries did not want to risk having the natives violate. To help their cause, evangelism was done in the native language.

The Doctrina Christiana is a book of catechism, the alphabet, and basic prayers in Tagalog (both in the Latin alphabet and Baybayin) and Spanish published in the 16th century.

American period: 1898–1946

During the sovereignty of the United States, the American government implemented the separation of church and state. It reduced the significant political power exerted by the Church, which led to the establishment of other faiths (particularly Protestantism) within the country. In this era, in the first decade of 1900, Jorge Barlin was ordained as the first Filipino bishop of the Catholic Church, for the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres.

A provision of the 1935 Philippine Constitution mimicked the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and added the sentences: "The exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall be forever allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil political rights." But the Philippine experience has shown that this theoretical wall of separation has been crossed several times by secular authorities.


Catholic procession of the Black Nazarene in Manila, 2010

When the Philippines was placed under Martial Law by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, relations between Church and State changed dramatically, as some bishops expressly and openly opposed Martial Law.[8]Template:Incomplete short citation The turning point came in 1986 when the CBCP President then-Archbishop of Cebu Ricardo Cardinal Vidal appealed to the Filipinos and the bishops against the government and the fraudulent result of the snap election; with him was then-Archbishop of Manila Jaimé Cardinal Sin, who broadcast over Church-owned Radio Veritas a call for people to support anti-regime rebels. The people's response became what is now known as the People Power Revolution, which ousted Marcos.

Church and State today maintain generally cordial relations despite differing opinions over specific issues. With the guarantee of religious freedom in the Philippines, the Catholic clergy subsequently remained in the political background as a source of moral influence especially during elections. Political candidates continue to court the clergy and religious leaders for support.

In the 21st century, Catholic practice ranges from traditional orthodoxy, to Folk Catholicism and Charismatic Catholicism.[9] Of the roughly 84 million Filipino Catholics today, 37 percent are estimated[2] to hear Mass regularly, 29 percent consider themselves very religious, and less than 10 percent ever think of leaving the church.[2]

During the Philippine Drug War, the Church in the Philippines has been critical of extra judicial killings, and what it sees as Duterte Administration approval of the bloodshed.[10] Members of the Catholic clergy have been killed during the drug war.[11] In response, some churches offer sanctuary to those who fear death due to the drug war violence.[12] In response to the criticism he has received from the Church, Duterte criticized the Church and said: Template:Quote

In March 2020, in response to the prohibition of mass gatherings during the "enhanced community quarantine" throughout Luzon, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) through its President, Archbishop Romulo Valles, said that the celebration of the Eucharist, other liturgical services and spiritual activities from every diocese under their jurisdiction have to be broadcast live through the internet, television or radio.[13][14] All activities for the Lenten season are also cancelled.[13] Earlier during the Metro Manila partial lockdown, the Archdiocese of Manila through its Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, already cancelled the celebration of the Holy Mass and dispensed the faithful from attending it.[15]

Internal movements

Quiapo Church, the Basilica Minore of the Nazarene is home of the statue of the Black Nazarene, which is the focus of widespread popular devotion in the country.

Catholic Charismatic Renewal

A number of Catholic Charismatic Renewal movements emerged vis-a-vis the Born-again movement during the 70s. The charismatic movement offered In-the-Spirit seminars in the early days, which have now evolved and have different names; they focus the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some of the charismatic movements were the Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon, Assumption Prayer Group, Couples for Christ, the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals, El Shaddai, Elim Communities, Kerygma, the Light of Jesus Family,[16] Shalom, and Soldiers of Christ.[17]

Neocatechumenal Way

The Catholic Church's Neocatechumenal Way in the Philippines has been established more than 40 years. Membership in the Philippines now exceeds 35,000 persons in more than 1000 communities, with concentrations in Manila and IloIlo province. A neocatechumenal diocesan seminary, Redemptoris Mater, is located in Parañaque, while many families in mission are all over the islands. The Way has been mostly concentrated on evangelisation initiatives under the authority of the local bishops.

Papal visits

Pope Francis in Tacloban in January 2015


The Catholic Church is involved in education at all levels. It has founded and continues to sponsor hundreds of secondary and primary schools as well as a number of colleges and internationally known universities. The Jesuit Ateneo de Manila University, La Salle Brothers De La Salle University, and the Dominican University of Santo Tomas are listed in the "World's Best Colleges and Universities" in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.[24]

Other prominent educational institutions in the country are St. Scholastica's College Manila, Angeles University Foundation, Holy Angel University, Vincentian's Adamson University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, University of San Carlos, University of San Jose – Recoletos, San Beda College, Saint Louis University, Saint Mary's University, St. Paul University System, Canossa School, San Pedro College, San Sebastian College – Recoletos de Manila, Ateneo de Davao University, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, University of St. La Salle, University of the Immaculate Conception, Notre Dame University, Notre Dame of Marbel University, Notre Dame of Dadiangas University, Salesians of Don Bosco in the Philippines, Saint Mary's Academy of Nagcarlan, Sanctuario de San Antonio Children's Learning Center, and the University of San Agustin, La Consolacion College, Universidad de Santa Isabel, Ateneo de Naga University, University of Santo Tomas - Legazpi

Political influence

The Catholic Church wields great influence on Philippine society and politics. One typical event is the role of the Catholic hierarchy during the bloodless People Power Revolution of 1986. Then-Archbishop of Cebu Ricardo Cardinal Vidal and then-Archbishop of Manila Jaime Cardinal Sin were the two pillars of the uprising against autocratic dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. The Cebu Archbishop, who was president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines at that time, led the rest of the Philippine bishops and made a joint declaration against the government and the results of the snap election, while the Manila Archbishop appealed to the public via radio to march along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in support of rebel forces. Some seven million people responded in what became known as the 1986 People Power Revolution, which lasted from February 22–25. The non-violent revolution successfully drove President Marcos out of power and into exile in Hawaii.[25]

In 1989, President Corazon Aquino asked Cardinal Vidal to convince General Jose Comendador, who was sympathetic to the rebel forces fighting her government, to peacefully surrender. His attempt averted what could have been a bloody coup.[26]

In October 2000, an aged Cardinal Sin expressed his dismay over the allegations of corruption against President Joseph Estrada. His call sparked the second EDSA Revolution, dubbed as "EDSA Dos". Cardinal Vidal stepped forward again and personally asked Estrada to step down, to which he agreed at around 12:20 p.m. of January 20, 2001, after five continuous days of protest at the EDSA Shrine and cities, municipalities and provinces of the Philippines and various parts of the world. His Vice-President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, succeeded him immediately and was sworn in on the terrace of the Shrine in front of Cardinal Sin.

On the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared three days of national mourning, and was one of many dignitaries at his funeral in Vatican City.

Political turmoil in the Philippines widened the rift between the State and the Church. Arroyo's press secretary Ignacio Bunye called the bishops and priests who attended an anti-Arroyo protest as hypocrites and "people who hide their true plans". The Church in the Philippines strongly opposed the Responisible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which is commonly known as RH Bill.[27] The country's populace – 80% of which self-identify as Catholic – was deeply divided in its opinions over the issue.[28]

In 2017, a USA Today reporter remarked that the Church reached it political peak in 1986, when it was instrumental in replacing the Marcos regime. It lost influence when it opposed contraceptives in 2012. It was therefore less effective when it tried to rally public support against the Duterte administration's killing of 8,000 people in 2017.[29]

Marian devotion

The Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Concepcion, is the principal patroness of the Philippines
Our Lady of Peñafrancia has almost five to nine million devotees attending its annual feast in Naga City.

The Philippines has shown a strong devotion to Mary, evidenced by her patronage of various towns and locales nationwide.[30] Particularly, there are pilgrimage sites where each town venerates a specific title of Mary. With Spanish regalia, indigenous miracle stories, and Asian facial features, Filipino Catholics have created hybridized, localized images, the popular devotions to which have been recognized by various Popes.

Filipino Marian images with an established devotion have generally received a Canonical Coronation, with the icon's principal shrine being customarily elevated to the status of minor basilica. Below are some pilgrimage sites and the year they received a canonical blessing:

Religious observances

Template:More citations needed

Catholic holy days, such as Christmas and Good Friday, are observed as national holidays,[31] with local saints' days being observed as holidays in different towns and cities. The Hispanic-influenced custom of holding fiestas in honour of patron saints have become an integral part of Filipino culture, as it allows for communal celebration while serving as a time marker for the year. A nationwide fiesta occurs on the third Sunday of January, on the country-specific Feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú. The largest celebrations are the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City, the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Aklan, and the Dinagyang in Iloilo City (which is instead held on the fourth Sunday of January).

With regard to most holy days of obligation, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) granted dispensation for all the faithful who cannot attend Masses on these days, except for the following yuletide observances:

In 2001, the CBCP also approved a reform in the liturgical calendar, which added to its list of obligatory memorials the Feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Maximilian Kolbe, Rita of Cascia, Ezequiel Moreno and many others.

Filipino diaspora

Overseas Filipinos have spread Filipino culture worldwide, bringing Filipino Catholicism with them. Filipinos have established two shrines in the Chicago Metropolitan Area: one at St. Wenceslaus Church dedicated to Santo Niño de Cebú and another at St. Hedwig's with its statue to Our Lady of Manaoag. The Filipino community in the Archdiocese of New York has the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel (New York City) for its apostolate.

Ecclesiastical territories


The Catholic Church in the Philippines is organized into 72 dioceses in 16 Ecclesiastical Provinces, as well as 7 Apostolic Vicariates and a Military Ordinariate.




Apostolic vicariates




See also


  1. "Philippines still top Christian country in Asia, 5th in world", December 21, 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Filipino Catholic population expanding, say Church officials.
  3. Asian Americans: A Mosaic of Faiths, Pew Research. July 19, 2012.
  4. History of Cebu | Philippines Cebu Island History | Cebu City Tour (en-US).
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Cebu—Cradle of the Philippine Church and Seat of Far-East Christianity." International Eucharistic Congress 2016, December 4, 2014, accessed December 4, 2014,
  6. Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth-century Philippine Culture and Society (in en). Ateneo University Press. ISBN 9789715501354. 
  7. Spanish Fortifications.
  8. Template:Harvnb
  9. "Filipinos as Christians", February 17, 2004. 
  10. Neuman, Scott. "Church Leaders In Philippines Condemn Bloody War On Drugs", National Public Radio, August 20, 2017. 
  11. Regencia, Ted. "Philippine Catholic priests: 'They are killing us'", Al Jazeera, June 13, 2018. 
  12. Watts, Jake Maxwell. "Catholic Church Opens Sanctuaries to the Hunted in Philippines Drug War", Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2018. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Soliman, Michelle Anne P. (March 18, 2020). Virtual religious gatherings amidst COVID-19. BusinessWorld Online.
  14. Mass livestream, alcohol at church entrances as Manila archdiocese guards against COVID-19 (March 9, 2020).
  15. No public mass for seven days in Manila archdiocese to help curb COVID-19 (March 13, 2020).
  16. builder. home (en-US).
  17. Soldiers Of Christ Catholic Charismatic Healing Ministry Official (en).
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Apostle Endangered". Time, December 7, 1970. Retrieved April 13, 2007. Archived May 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  19. The Philippines, 1995: Pope dreams of.
  20. Service, New York Times News. Millions flock to papal Mass in Manila Gathering is called the largest the pope has seen at a service (en-US).
  21. CBCP: Pope Francis may visit Philippines in 2016.
  22. Pope Francis invited to Cebu event in 2016 – Tagle.
  23., By Jon Carlos Rodriguez. 'Luneta Mass is largest Papal event in history'.
  24. Top Universities Archived January 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  25. Briefly In Religion.
  26. cardinal vidal says dialogue helped limit bloodshed during coup (en).
  27. Church to continue opposition vs RH bill passage. SunStar (August 16, 2011).
  28. Dentsu Communication Institute Inc., Research Centre Japan (2006)Template:In lang
  29. Maresca, Thomas. "Catholic Church dissents on Duterte's drug war", April 29, 2017, pp. 4B. 
  30. "Filipinos hold Grand Marian Procession ahead of Mary’s feast", December 2, 2019. 

External links

This article incorporates material from the U.S. Library of Congress and is available to the general public.

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