DAGUPAN City, Pangasinan, Jan. 22, 2015—Years before the local Church marks 500 years of Christianity in the country as symbolized by the Santo Niño, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) calls for a fair reassessment of the role friars played in the making of the nation in order for Filipinos to have a better appreciation of their past.

In a recent pastoral exhortation, CBCP President Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan shares that the commemoration of the discovery of the Santo Niño, known as “Kaplag,”leads the faithful to embrace the future with hope as they look back to the contributions of the religious orders and congregations to what is now known as Philippine culture.

CBCP President Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan (Photo: CBCPNews)

According to the prelate, a truthful review should be based on historical evidence of the religious groups who came to the Philippines, especially the friar orders of the Spanish colonial period.

Lopsided history

“The ghosts of the Black Legend [‘Leyenda Negra’] and even of our own Propaganda Movement and its supporters have conditioned our thinking towards these friars, with the backlash that the key to the understanding of so many sources to our history—our knowledge of the Spanish language—has unfortunately deteriorated,” he explains, alluding to a style of writing history that demonizes anything Spanish and Catholic at the expense of accuracy.

Villegas laments, moreover, that unfamiliarity with primary sources has led significant sectors of the Church in the Philippines—its hierarchy and seminary professors included—to regard the role of the religious in the Spanish colonial chapter of Philippine church history in a negative light.

“Shadows there were aplenty, for sure, but these seem to obscure the lights that are so much more illuminating,” he notes.

Padres Dámasos and Salvís notwithstanding, the prelate points out that a more balanced reading of Philippine history will reveal courageous men and women religious who “lived Christ and shared Christ,” and made the islands a much better place to live in.

Contributions to society

Besides their primary task of evangelization, Villegas lauds the staggering legacy of religious congregations to Philippine secular life, especially in the fields of education, health and sanitation, agriculture, civics and urban planning, languages and commerce.

“Histories of peoples were written down or may be gleaned through neatly kept canonical books, records of income and expenses, and inventories of church goods and property, all of which were dutifully turned over by every incoming and outgoing personnel and kept in archives and libraries,” he says.

“The arts and sciences flourished under their care. In terms of cultural heritage alone, the country is the richer not just for solid and artistic churches and conventos but also schools, hospitals, orphanages, leprosaria, dams, fortresses, watchtowers streets, bridges, plazas, and even marketplaces like the market of Baclayon, Bohol and town halls like the tribunal of Paoay, Ilocos Norte,” he adds. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)