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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

A glorious history in the Philippines

The Evangelization of the Philippines began with the coming the Spanish and Mexican Augustinians from Mexico in 1565 in the expedition across the Pacific Ocean of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Father Andres de Urdaneta O.S.A.

Although he had been a navigator in the Pacific earlier in his life, Fr Urdaneta was reluctant to lead this expedition. By this time aged in his sixties and in imperfect health, he considered that he had retired as a navigator when he had joined the Augustinian Order in Mexico.  But when King Philip II of Spain ordered the viceroy to "prepare a fleet of discovery" of the western islands near the Moluccas and wrote Father Urdaneta a letter asking him to be the navigator of the voyage, he felt compelled to obey for "the glory of God and the expansion of our faith."  When Father Urdaneta declined the offer to lead the expedition as well, that responsibility was assigned to Legazpi.

The Augustinians became the first Catholic missionaries there in the Philippines. Father Urdaneta and four other Augustinians -- Frs Martín de Rada (b. 1533 - d. 1578), Diego de Herrera, Pedro de Gamboa and Andrés de Aguirre -- started a successful apostolate in Cebú as soon as they landed in 1565. Legazpi founded the first Spanish settlement there in a spot where his men had stumbled upon a statue of the Child Jesus in hut burnt during a skirmish with the native inhabitants against Spanish sovereignty. He named the place Villa del Santísimo Nombre de Jésus in honor of the Holy Child. The Spaniards considered it miraculous to have found the statue, a gift from Ferdinand Magellan to the wife of the chieftain of Cebu after her conversion to Catholicism in 1521. Father Urdaneta returned to Mexico to resume his ministry there.

Meanwhile, hardships brought about by lack of food, harsh living conditions and probing attacks mounted by the Portuguese from the Moluccas forced Legazpi to set sail for Panay island, where he replenished his supplies and planned for a definitive voyage to Luzon that would eventually lead to over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines with the establishment of Manila on 24 June 1571 as the capital of the new Spanish colony. In 1575 the Prior General of the Order, Fr Tadeo de Perusa O.S.A., issued the decree creating the new Augustinian Province in the Philippines to be known as the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines (Santisimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas).

Under the leadership of Fr Alfonso Gutierez, twenty-four Spanish Augustinians in 1575 landed in the islands and, with the guidance of both Frs Herrera and Rada, worked initially as itinerant preachers. Their missionary zeal played a pivotal role in the evolution of the archipelago into today's only Catholic nation in Asia. In Manila, the Augustinians received a piece of land within the walled city of Intramuros to build a church and a monastery. To provide a steady source of missionaries to the Philippines following the founding of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines, a seminary was created in Valladolid, Spain. Father Herrera was the Province's first Prior Provincial (leader).

San Agustín Church and Monastery at Intramuros in Manila is closely tied to the history of the Philippines for it was there where the Augustinians planned and carried out the evangelization of the country. Father Rada denounced abuses committed by Spanish authorities against the local population and reported these to king Philip ll. His vigorous advocacy for justice has earned him a place in history as the "Defender of the Natives." A key document in this matter was his Parescer del Provincial fray Martín de Rada, agostino, sobre las coasa de estas tierass ("About the abuses committed against the natives in the collection of tributes"), dated at Manila on 21 June 1575.

From 1565 to 1898 close to 3,000 Augustinians worked in the Philippines. They founded 328 parishes, 90 of which were turned over to other religious and native secular clergy. In 1897 close to 3,000,000 Filipinos were under their care.

Augustinians made an invaluable contribution to the material and cultural progress in the country. They helped revolutionize the cultivation of the agricultural products of the country and introduced from America and Asia; wheat, sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, and various fruits. They directed the building of churches, schools, roads, channels for irrigation and organized the towns. The Augustinians wrote grammars and dictionaries in tagalong Capampangan, Ilocano, Hiligaynon and Cebuano as well as doctrinal and devotional books about history, where they recorded the life and mores of the Filipinos at the arrival of the Spaniards, books about flora and medicinal plants of the land.

As part of their social involvement with the people, the Augustinians established the Hospital de Lazaro for lepers in 1814 and the Casa de Asilo in 1860 persons with cholera in the town of Laoag, Ilocos Norte and another Hospital Candaba, Pampanga in 1605. In 1882 there was a great epidemic of cholera in Manila and environs and many people died living many children orphaned. Augustinians built an orphanage in the district of San Marcelino, Manila to give shelter and education to those children. Later the orphaned girls were housed in Mandaluyong under the Augustinians Sisters and the boys, first in the Guadalupe Monastery Makati and in 1890 at Malabon in those days part of Bulacan where Schools of Arts and Trades was established but was destroyed during in 1899 during the revolutionary era.

The missionaries of the Province have given the world valuable descriptive works on Asian countries and their peoples especially in the early days of Western presence in what was then the East. Included in this key Augustinian contribution are Fr Cipriano Navarro's important work on The Inhabitants of the Philippines and a monumental work in six volumes by Fr Manuel Blanco titled Flora de Filipinas (Madrid, 1877). Both works are priceless contributions to literature and learning. World-renowned botanist Father Blanco had built a botanical garden for his plant experiments in Intramuros that became the basis for his internationally acclaimed book.

Since 1565 to the present, these Augustinian missionaries to the Philippines have extended their ministry to China and Japan. In 1603 some of them entered Japan, where several were martyred, and in 1653 others reached China, where in 1701 the Order had six missionary stations. Father Rada was one of those who visited China, and he reported extensively on his findings and impressions about the country. He is considered to be the first ambassador of the Philippines to China during colonial times.

Before the Philippine Revolution of 1898, the Augustinians administered over four hundred schools and churches in the islands. In 1904 they established the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City that eventually emerged as the largest Augustinian educational institution in the world in terms of student population and the only Augustinian university in the Asia-Pacific region. They have also served as the custodians of the Santo Niño Shrine in Cebu City, which houses the centuries-old image of the Child Jesus recovered by Legazpi's men in 1565, within the Basilica del Santo Niño de Cebu, now under the care of the all-Filipino Augustinian Province of Santo Niño of Cebu that separated from the mother province in 1983.

The Province in 1968 re-established Augustinian presence on the Indian subcontinent, which Portuguese Augustinian missionaries first reached by way of Goa in 1542. Incidentally, four Augustinians missionaries in the Philippines -- Frs Jeronimo de Santisteban, Nicolas de Alvarado, Sebastian Reina (or de Trasierra), and Alfonso de Alvarado -- once they had returned to Spain, became the first four priests and members of a religious order to have sailed entirely around the world.

In the 1984 the Province of Santo Niño of Cebu was canonically erected and all Augustinian houses in the Philippines were handed over to the new Province except San Agustin of Manila and Colegio San Agustin of Makati, were Filipinos and Spaniards continue their pastoral and education apostolate. With the erection of the new Augustinian Province of Cebu in 1983, the former Vicariate of the Philippines, while remaining part of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines, to avoid confusion was renamed the Vicariate of the Orient.

This website has separate pages on the Vicariate of the Orient and the Province of Cebu.

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