Today’s View: The Aglipayan Church in my Hometown

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June 27 2013

But in the 1970s, at the height of the student movement to which I belonged, I learned about the history of the Aglipayan Church or the Philippine Independent Church founded by Gregorio Aglipay and Isabelo de los Reyes.  I found out, to my remorseful realization, that it was the Church of the Filipino revolutionaries!

By DON J. PAGUSARA  
Davao Today

In my hometown, the Church of the Aglipayan Sect was just a block away from that of the Roman Catholic Church.  It sat on a lot at a street corner big enough for the church building to occupy.  It had no churchyard to speak of, its main entrance opened into a space just a few feet from the side of the street.  It was a solitary structure within that narrow space where it occupied.

But the Roman Catholic Church nearby was at the middle of some three or four hectares of level grassland, sliced into unequal parts by Gumamelas, Violetas and Cucharitas, and dotted with wide-spreading Acacia trees.  The entire spread of land was enclosed by barbed wires and Tubatuba hedges.

The Catholics were most numerous among the Christian believers.  The Aglipayans could only be counted as so many families by our 10 fingers.  But as far as I knew they were the oldest settler families in the place.  The first mayor (during US colonial time) was a member of the Aglipayan church.

Being a Catholic was to enjoy the self-consciousness of being favored as a member of the true Church of Christ.  And this self-conscious feeling of being favored translates in social practice into a kind of tyranny of the majority.

Even as a young boy I was one of those who regard the Aglipayans as members of a bogus church.  We scoff at the fact that Aglipayan priests are Filipinos and are married or are family men and therefore less blessed than the Catholic priests.

We could not reconcile the fact that their priests have children, in defiance to the vow of celibacy supposedly mandated by Christ himself(?).  We thought they were recalcitrant Christians who had not gone through real scholastic training required of the priestly vocation.

Also, we gloated over the fact that our priests are Caucasians — mostly Irish or Irish-Americans, whereas theirs are “locals” or ordinary Filipinos, if not in fact Bisaya.

We ridiculed their conduct in the celebration of the Mass which was said in the Cebuano language.  We burst out in disdainful giggles at the liturgical dialog between their priest and faithfuls in chants that went this way:  “Ang Ginoo anaa kaninyo [the Lord be with you], and promptly answered by their choir and faithfuls with “Ug anaa usab sa imong ispiritu [And also in your spirit].

We strongly believe our Catholic Mass is superior because it is in Latin, the language of the Pope of Rome who is the true Vicar of Christ.  We regard the Aglipayans, especially their priest, with distrust, avoiding him whenever we happened to meet him in the street.

But in the 1970s, at the height of the student movement to which I belonged, I learned about the history of the Aglipayan Church or the Philippine Independent Church founded by Gregorio Aglipay and Isabelo de los Reyes.  I found out, to my remorseful realization, that it was the Church of the Filipino revolutionaries!

And I soon totally changed my attitude towards Aglipayans.  I now admired them, their tenacity and loyal adherence to their congregation even if they were a small minority in most places.  And above all, to be in the forefront of the revolutionary struggle against Spain!

Then. . .!  Vatican II Reforms came!  Ecumenism became a catchword and a welcome happenstance in the history of world religions.  And to my triumphant joy, the Aglipayans were vindicated!  Their conduct in the celebration of the Mass was, after all, in keeping with the spirit of the Pope-initiated reforms!  The Church Mass ceremony should adopt the people’s language!

Indeed, why should the language in the Mass be in a language akin to voodoo magic? — something the people cannot understand?

But the Filipino people, inured  to slavish obeisance after 300 years of colonial subjection,  would find it blissfully exhilarating to be muttering in the language of the deities.

To a lesser degree, such is likewise the rare feeling of being able to mumble a smattering of English words.  Our minds and hearts have been psychologically conditioned to love the language of the colonialists — Spanish and English.  To the extent that we despise our own native tongue.

Thanks to the Aglipayans, they have demonstrated what is right and proper.  It is not surprising that even in the Arts and Letters, the Aglipayans were the avid practitioners of the Cebuano language in their poetry and other literary expressions.

Fernando Buyser, an Aglipayan bishop of Cebu during the American colonial era, was a much respected and admired literary figure in Cebuano poetry.  He could be considered “a prince of Cebuano poetry.”  As a matter of fact, he invented a poetic form called Sonanoy (sonatang mananoy or melodious sonnet).

Reflecting on the role of the Aglipayan or Philippine Independent Church during the Philippine Revolution of 1896, I cannot help but wish my family (my father and mother) were members of this much maligned religious sect in our place during my childhood days.  And I wouldn’t have been part of those who maligned it.    

Don J. Pagusara is a ative of Mindanao, a multi-awarded author and a Palanca-awardee.

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