Federation of Filipino-Chinese Catholic Women's Organizations


Long before Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippine islands in 1521, there were already exchanges between what is today the Philippines and china. The Song Dynasty (960-1279) Annals record a diplomatic mission to China made by the Kingdom of Butuan in October of the year 1003. TheMing Dynasty (1368-1644) Annals indicate that in 1417, no less than the Sultan of Sulu and his retinue of three hundred visited Emperor Yong Le in Beijing. Sultan Paduka Batara, in fact, died in China and his two sons remained there to tend his grave so that today, their descendant inhabit a place called Dezhou in, Shandong Province.

If such top-level exchanges took place a good five centuries before the arrival of Magellan, it is not difficult to imagine that trade relations had been going on for- much longer. Economic and political relations between the Philippines and China go back more than a millennium, but it was only with the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines that China became the object of another kind of relationship, this time religious.

The Jesuit Alonso Sanchez, who arrived in Manila together with the new colony's first Bishop, the Dominican Domingo de Salazar' had proposed a project to send "an armed expedition from the Philippines to China with the object of compelling the Chinese government to permit the entry of missionaries into China, and of providing the missionaries with an armed escort to ensure their safety while preaching Christianity to the Chinese." While this project did not materialize, the Jesuits always had China in the horizon of their apostolic interests. During their first years in the Philippines, beginning in 1581, when their specific field of ministry was not yet determined, the Jesuits decided that:

Those who stayed behind in Manila could devote themselves to the apostolate of the Chinese; this would certainly give them more than enough to do, and if the mission in China should develop as to require more men, they would be ready for it.

The Jesuits in Manila then took on the apostolate among “the Chinese of Manila as preparation for doing missionary work in China. In this essay, I will show that the religious of other Orders shared this plan. I will also demonstrate that the Philippine church, from her beginnings, has always had an apostolate to the Chinese in the Philippines. It is an apostolate that survives to the present day, and it is the modest objective of this paper to trace the history of the apostolate. The paper will be limited to the church's work among the Chinese in the Philippines, and will not include the efforts made from the Philippines to gain a missionary foothold in China.


The Augustinians

A letter dated 24 June 1590, from Bishop Salazar to King Philip II, indicates that many Chinese merchants, known then as Sangleys. Lived in the village of Tondo with no specific place assigned to them. Some were Christians, but most were pagans. Governor Goncalo Ronquillo allocated four large buildings for them to live in and house their goods. This place came to be known as the Parian.

Through his goodwill, Bishop Salazar began to earn the trust and gratitude of the Sangleys. He noticed that "although the Augustinian religious had charge of the Sangleys of Tondo, they did not minister to them in their own language, but in that of the natives of the land." The good bishop observed that the Sangleys were instructed in the native language of the land, and thus they became Christians only in name, understanding nothing of Christianity.

The bishop appealed to all the religious to assign some missionaries to learn the language of the Sangleys and take charge of their spiritual welfare, but none were able to do it. Only when the bishop's fellow Dominicans arrived in 1587 were there" missionaries available to minister to the Sangleys. The Dominicans were given a site adjoining the Parian and they began to interact with the Sangleys.

The Dominicans

The Parian built by Governor Goncalo Ronquillo was destroyed by fire. The new governor Diego Rorquillo, transferred the Sangleys-to another Parian, 'built in a marshy place on the border of this city between northern and southern sides. 'The Dominican monastery stood nearby. Four priests took care of between three and four thousand Sangleys who lived in the Parian, plus those who lived in Tondo. As the years went by, the Dominicans established a total of four missins, including a hospital, among the Chinese. As early as 1590, three years after their arrival, the Dominicans already collaborated with some prominent Sangleys to send a missionary delegation to China.

For the amount of two hundred pesos, the Governor Luis Perez Dasmarinas bought the island of Binondo in 1594 and offered it as dwelling of the chinese community. The church was dedicated to San Gabriel in the beginning, but by 1751 it was already under the patronage of our Lady of the Rosary. Destroyed and rebuilt in 1762 during the British occupation of Manila, the church was again damaged in the earthquake of 1963. It was rebuilt and became one of the most beautiful churches in the country.

Although the island and church of Binondo were established for the Chinese, the parish itself was inhabited by many natives. To their credit, the Dominicans always had at least one priest who spoke Chinese to attend to the spiritual needs of the Chinese. In 1898, when the Dominicans left all their works in the island, there were 68, 972 parishioners in Binondo, consisting of natives, Chinese, mestizos and Spaniards.

The Chinese Catholics in Binondo were thus deprived of priests who understood them, their language and their culture. In 1923, they requested Archbishop Michael J. O' Doherty, for a priest who could speak Chinese. The Archbishop arranged for the Sacred Consistorial Congregation to transfer the parish of the Chinese once again to* the Dominicans. Pope Pius Xl created a separate parish in Binondo for the Chinese, but since they had no church of their own, the Chinese shared the old church of Binondo with the Filipino parish. There were then two parishes in Binondo, one for the Filipinos and one for the Chinese' The Second World War and the total destruction of the church brought an end to this unusual situation where two parishes shared one church building.

In 1945, the parish priest for the Chinese, Antonio Garcia, secured permission to build d small church and convent in the area formerly occupied by the old convent. The chinese parish then became fully independent. The following year 1946, Garcia established a school attached to the church. Today the school is known as the Lorenzo Ruiz Academy, and today there are still two parishes in Binondo the Basilica of our Lady of the Rosary and the Chinese parish behind it.

The Jesuits

Arriving in the Philippines together with Bishop Salazar in 1581, the Jesuits spent their first few years in the country studying the local situation and deciding whether or not to stay. In the Chinese the Jesuits saw fertile ground for their missionary enterprise. Father Hernan Suarez learned enough of the Hokkien dialect to be able to teach catechism in the Chinese quarter. The initiative of the Jesuits delighted Bishop Salazar and Governor de Vera. The Bishop offered to constitute the Chinese as a “national parish" and give the Jesuits charge of it. The governor offered to build them a church and a residence in the city so they could be near their parishioners. However, Father Antonio Sedeno, superior of the Jesuit mission, declined the offer, as he was under instructions not to commit the Society to parish, admifiig6tion. Suarez and a few others continued to minister to the Chinese informally.

The Jesuits in the Philippines came to own lands in Sta. Cruz and Mayhaligi, where there were Chinese tenants who desired to adopt the Christian faith. On 20 October 1620,' Archbishop Miguel Garcia Serrano authorized the Jesuits to construct a church for the Sangleys and to take care of their spiritual needs. Originally belonging to the secular parish of Quiapo, Sta. Cruz became an independent parish. In 1634, the parish priest of Quiapo, Father Jeronimo Rodriguez de Lujan, petitioned the governor for the Christian Chinese of Quiapo to be considered parishioners of Sta. Cruz while maintaining their residence in Quiapo. He deemed this convenient as the Jesuits spoke Chinese whereas the secular priests of Quiapo did not. The acting governor, Cerezon de Salamanca, approved the petition.

In the ensuing, Sta. Cruz developed into a prosperous parish, ne of three (the other two being Binondo and the Parian, both under ominicans) that specially catered to the Chinese. During the second general massacre of the Chinese in 1639, the Jesuit parish priest of Sta. Cruz was authorized to offer terms of surrender to the Chinese rebel commanders. They accepted, and the rebels laid down their arms. The Christians among them were allowed to reside in Sta. Cruz, while the non-Christians were assigned to a stockaded enclosure within the Dominican parish in Binondo.

The Jesuit apostolate to the Chinese ended with suppression of the Society in the late eighteenth century. The decree of Charles III expelling the Jesuits from all his dominions, dated 1767 , reached Manila the following year. In 1769, following the British invasion of Manila where the Chinese sided with the British, there was a total ban on Chinese settlers, whether Christian or not. In reality, however, the total ban was never completely enforced, for Chinese skilled labor was indispensable to the city.

Binondo remained as a Chinese Catholic commune, but after the Dominicans turned over the Binondo and Parian parishes to the secular clergy in 1768, there was no more special apostolate to the Chinese. The Dominicans returned to Binondo in 1822, but up until 1898 when they left the place again, the ministry to the Chinese remained a small and informal effort because the parish had come to be dominated by Filipinos. Ignatius Tsai estimates that roughly ten percent of the Chinese population of this period was Catholic.

In the nineteenth century, immigration policies were relaxed and Chinese settlers once again came in great numbers. The number of immigrants jumped from seven thousand at the turn of the nineteenth century to one hundred thousand at the end of the Spanish period. Inspite of the absence of a special ministry to the Chinese, the Chinese Catholic population did not diminish as the Chinese were allowed to live in the provinces and many converted to gain acceptance in the local community. After 1839, when residential restrictions were lifted, only sixty two percent of the Chinese in the Philippines remained in Manila.

The American and Japanese regimes tended to treat the Chinese as a separate ethnic group, but did not differentiate between Christians and non-Christians. In general, however the Chinese mixed with the local Catholic population and easily adopted the Catholic way of life, at least externally. The Binondo Chinese parish was restored in 1923, but the apostolate could only be a small effort run by one or two priests in the parish, the Chinese now numbered one hundred thousand and were scattered throughout the Philippine archipelago. Only after the Second World War and the rise of communism in China would there be a renewed apostolate among the Chinese.

The Post-1949 Years

In 1945, the Dominican Father Antonio Garcia successfully built a parish church for the Chinese in Binondo. The following year he added a school to the parish. These Dominican works were all that remained of the Philippine Church's Chinese apostolate. This changed, however, with the political developments in mainland China.

Missionaries had succeeded in entering China by the late sixteenth century, and for the next two and a half centuries missionaries from different orders were able to work in China. When the communists led by Mao Zedong gained power in '1949, all foreign missionaries were asked to leave China. Many came to the Philippines, bringing their Chinese seminarians with them.

As early as 1950, there were already Chinese priests ordained in the Philippines. After ordination, some priests went to Europe and the United States for further studies. Others went to Taiwan to work there. As mall number remained in the Philippines together with the missionaries who had to leave China. These priests, together with the Chinese seminarians, began to work in different parishes, learning English and the local languages.

Some Chinese priests and seminarians began to teach in the non-sectarian Chinese schools found all over the Philippines, organized and run by the local Chinese Chambers of Commerce. At the time, there were only two Chinese Catholic schools in Manila: The Crusader's Academy (this is the school's old name) of the Dominicans in Binondo and the Anglo-Chinese Academy in Sta. Cruz run by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, a French-Canadian Congregation with a special interest in the Chinese. The entry of Chinese priests and seminarians into the non-sectarian Chinese schools effected the first meeting between total Chinese Catholics and Chinese Clergy. The two groups surprised each other. The Chinese clergy were shocked at the significance of the faith of the local Chinese, and the local Chinese were surprised h see clergy of their own race. The relationship was mutually respectful, but no real dialogue took place because the Chinese clergy spoke Mandarin, not the Hokkien dialect of the local Chinese. Further, the Chinese clergy and the foreign missionaries were still thinking of the Philippines as a temporary stopover. They were hoping that communism would not last in China and they would be able to return there.

When it became apparent that the Chinese clergy and the foreign missionaries would not be able to return to China, they began to take the local apostolate more seriously. Work among the Chinese in the Philippines slowly became a reality. Julio Cardinal Rosales of Cebu was the first to establish a personal parish for the Chinese during this period. ln 1952, he entrusted the new parish to the Jesuits from China. ln that same year, Archbishop Jose Cuenco of Iloilo did the same. A new parish for the Chinese was established and the Jesuits were put in charge of it. Parishes or mission stations for the
Chinese were erected all over the country, literally from Aparri in the north to Job in the south. At its height, there were fifty parishes or mission stations. The number was later reduced to eighteen, In 1955, the Holy See appointed the exiled Bishop of Amoy, Dominican Juan B. Velasco, as the National Director of the Chinese Apostolate in the Philippines. ln 1959, the Philippine bishops named him Vicar-General for the Chinese in their respective jurisdictions.

In Manila, the Chinese apostolate was expanded. Aside from Binondo, three more Chinese parishes were erected: Saint Peter the Apostle in Paco, Saint Jude in Manila, and Mary the Queen in San Juan. Today, San Jose de Troso Parish in Manila and lmmaculate Conception Parish in Damar Village, Quezon City, also have large constituencies of Chinese parishioners.

Chinese Catholic Schools followed the establishment of personal parishes or mission stations. When the non-sectarian Chinese schools refused to allow catechesis in their schools, the local Catholics collaborated with the foreign missionaries and Chinese clergy to establish Chinese Catholic schools, of which there are today nineteen. These schools now have the status of Filipino schools where Chinese is part of the curriculum.

There were few adult baptisms in this renewed Chinese apostolate, but the establishment of parishes and schools throughout the country made it possible for new generations of local Chinese to grow up in Chinese Catholic environments. Today,  the results of this renewed Chinese  apostolate are becoming more apparent.  Not only can Chinese Filipino Catholics be found in all walks of life.  They have also organized themselves into organizations federations that seek to preserve their identity and offer themselves for service to the Church and the country. The youth are organized as Filipino-Chinese Catholic Youth and regional and national conventions are periodically organized. The women have "Ladies' Circles" organized throughout the country and are federated in the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Catholic Women's Organizations (FFCCWO), which holds a national convention every two years.