Thursday, May 17, 2007

tidbits of local history

Note: As I have mentioned in my post last Sunday, while cleaning my room, I was "unearthed” beneath a pile of magazine and books, copies of the articles that I wrote for the souvenir program during the 50th Charter Day Anniversary of Calbayog City on October 16, 1998. Here’s the second article:


Happy Charter Day Everyone! If you are now reading this line, this writer would like to thank you for taking time to read beyond the title of this article (of course, it’s Spanish), which if you should take a closer look, somewhat summarizes the evolution of a church, in this case the church in Calbayog; and also, it is an analogy on the growth of a pueblo once known as Hibatang (or Ibatan or Batan) now celebrating her Golden Jubilee. From a small group of believers, the people of God in Calbayog grew and thus was formed the parish and the diocese; the same thing with Calbayog, the small settlement along the Hibatang River became a city that looked an “extended municipality” in 1948 and was transformed to the dynamic urban center that it is at present.

The significance of the Golden Jubilee of Calbayog cannot be overemphasized, after all, we celebrate anniversaries not only to look back and remember how we have started, but to know how to move forward and grow amid the trickling of the sands of time.

On this important milestone in our local history, we also have to consider the development of the Diocese (and parish) of Calbayog. Why, some may ask, should we give importance to religion, or the Church to say the least, in a celebration that is basically secular? We should always remember that the church is a vital factor in telling the history of many settlements in the Philippines. In the absence of records or archives, many historians look at the age of the church bell to know the age of settlement. (Of course we can no longer do this in Calbayog, the original bell was replaced even before the repairs done on the cathedral in the 1960s)

You might not have noticed it, Calbayog still have the Spanish Plaza Complex. The Calbayog City Hall, the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Spanish Building of the Calbayog Pilot School and the Old Barracks – all of these were erected around the Sacred Heart Plaza which would later on be named after the late Julio Cardinal Rosales.

Let’s focus on the Cathedral. This writer did a research on its history a few years ago. That research, though inconclusive, made an attempt to put into record the history of this majestic place of worship, the dome and the belfry of which have become symbols of the cultural and religious tradition that is Calbayog City.

When Calbayog became a city in 1948, the cathedral was more or less ninety-three (93) years old (that is if we count from 1855, the last year of service of Fr. Sebastian Gomez as parish priest of Calbayog. Fr. Gomez is credited as the one who initiated the construction of the cathedral). The diocese was 38 years old (having been erected by Saint Pius X in 1910) and it has been 163 years since Fr. Benito Del Carmen, o.f.m. became the first parish priest of Calbayog.

In 1948, the parishioners were still worshiping in a cathedral characterized by the ornate chandeliers and the frescoed ceiling and not to mention the antique bells, candelabras and the antique images on the ornate altars; and the priests said the masses in Latin with his back to the people. Some old timers still remember how they dread seeing the priests ascend the wrought iron pulpito after the gospel, the moment he did that, it meant that it was going to be a long sermon.

And how true are the stories that some members of prominent families would bring their own chairs in front of the pews for them to use during high masses? And the singing of the Salve Regina was a superb experience. Try to imagine the cantores singing it in “good” Latin with the Armonium (which many mistook as the organ) in accompaniment and the priest garbed in fine alb carrying the incenser.

Okay, so you’ve had enough of the trappings of the cathedral. How about the people who ran the parish and the diocese?

1948 was the last year of Monsignor Juan Joel’s assignment as Parish Priest. He was succeeded by Monsignor Federico Morrero. Then followed a succession of parish priests. It included among others, Frs. Paulino Singzon and Ponciano Figueroa, Monsignor Bernardo Dalwatan, Monsignor Basilio Rosales and Monsignor Vicente Astorga. At present we have Monsignor Bienvenido Chiquillo.

Most Rev. Miguel Acebedo was on his 10th year as Bishop when Calbayog became a city. His term ended in 1958 and the list of bishops that succeeded him is as follows:

Msgr. Manuel del Rosario – 1958-1961
Msgr. Cipriano Urgel – June 12, 1962 – June 14, 1973
Msgr. Ricardo Tancinco Jr. DD – May 30, 1974 – 1979
Msgr. Sincero B. Lucero – June 23, 1979 – December 11, 1979 as Apostolic administrator; installed as Bishop on March 10, 1980. Resigned in 1984.

During the prolonged illness of Bishop Lucero, Bishops Filomeno G. Bactol and Godofredo P. Pedernal were successively appointed Apostolic Administrators sede plena of the Diocese. Upon the resignation of Lucero, the Holy See appointed the Very Reverend Pastor E. Palma, OAR, as the Apostolic Administrator sede vacante. Fr. Paloma resigned, and Archbishop Pedro R. Dean Jr. of Palo was appointed Apostolic Administrator SV on October 28, 1985. On November 1987, Pope John Paul II appointed Right Reverend Monsignor Maximiano T. Cruz Auxiliary Bishop of Calbayog.

It was during the time of Monsignor Manuel del Rosario when the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral had the unfortunate fate of being included in the list of churches that were to undergo drastic alterations. What we see in the Cathedral today is the result of such actions.

On the other hand, Calbayog was one of those dioceses that actively responded to the call of the Second Vatican Council. The masses were said in the vernacular. The clergy reached out to the people in the interior barangays. But this dynamism cast a heavy toll on the diocese. The Diocese of Calbayog was in a turmoil from the 1970s to the 1980s. The situation was best summed up be the late Msgr. Narding Irinco:

“Politically, the island (of Samar) is a hotbed of rebel activities. In many places, particularly in the hinterlands, the villagers are the hapless victims of encounters between the insurgents and government forces. Planned military operations and raids by rebel groups had not only disrupted the normal flow of the people’s lives but have also dislocated and uprooted the villagers from their homes. An atmosphere of fear, distrust and suspicion prevailed over many villagers. Needless to say, such a political situation was a major deterrent for the development of the people in the area. This ideologically-induced fragmentation was further aggravated by fierce competition among powerful politicians vying for the people’s support.”

“Among those victimized by this unfortunate situation was the Church herself. During the years immediately following Vatican II, the Church in Calbayog Diocese could boast of being a dynamic church, alive and responsive to the appeals of the people and imperatives of Vatican II. Inspired by the vision of ‘Church of the Poor’ in solidarity with the deprived and the marginalized, the church in the diocese struggled to realize this vision. In the atmosphere of political repression that generally prevailed in the country in the early 1980s the Church soon experienced the price she had to pay for this option. The raid by the military of the BORONGAN-CATARMAN-PALO-CALBAYOG (BCPC) Pastoral Secretariat in 1982 sounded the deathtoll for the pastoral activities of the Church that was struggling to be responsive to the signs of the times. The event scattered the clergy and the pastoral workers. The Bishop resigned and a succession of short-lived apostolic administrators (4 in about 5 years) followed its wake!”

“With the dispersal of the pastoral workers, practically all of the pastoral programs and organizational structures of the Diocese ceased to be operational… The situation persisted even to the year 1989. This chain of tragic events almost ended in the virtual “phasing out” of the Calbayog Diocese… the Holy See intended to reduce Calbayog Diocese to a mere Titular See. But upon the appointment of the MOST REV. PEDRO R. DEAN, D.D., the Metropolitan Archbishop of Palo, Rome decided to entrust to his administration the Diocese of Calbayog to save the situation. He humbly accepted the challenging responsibility, notwithstanding the burden of the vast Archdiocese of Palo.”

Today, the diocese of Calbayog is slowly inching its way to become one of the most active if not alive dioceses there is in this country. As the City of Calbayog grew, the Parish of Our Lady’s Nativity has implemented various development projects (especially on the restoration of the Cathedral) hand in hand with the promotion of various religious activities and organizations especially that of the youth.

The present Parish Pastoral Council which has served the Parish since 1992 has helped make all the projects possible through the efforts and solicitations for contributions (spiritual, moral and financial). Generous hearts of benefactors and donors both from Calbayog parishioners and those Calbayognons now living outside the Calbayog as in Manila, Cebu and in other parts of the Philippines, the United States and other parts of the globe. All these have been made possible through the guidance of the present Parish Priest Monsignor Bienvenido Chiquillo and the unfailing inspiration of Bishop Maximiano Cruz and of course the prayers of the parishioners.

The next time you happen to be in the vicinity of the Cardinal Rosales Plaza, do ponder upon the structures around it. Try to relish the events and the achievements of the days gone by; and learn that those events are recalled, the structures are venerated not for us to be frozen back in time but for us to learn how to move forward. Think about that.

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