The Franciscan contribution to the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines

The Franciscans in the Philippines (the Province of San Pedro Bautista and the Custody of San Antonio Padua) are now preparing activities related to the country’s 500th-anniversary celebration of the coming of Christianity in 2021.  Among these is the preparation of various publications and books that collect the contribution of the Franciscans to the evangelization of the Philippines since their arrival in 1577.

Aside from the founding of towns and parishes, the Franciscans also dedicated themselves to the establishment of institutions of charity such as San Juan de Dios Hospital (1580), Naga Hospital of San Diego (1586), Hospital of the Holy Waters in Los Baños (1592), and San Lazaro Hospital, the first leprosarium in the Far East (1580).

The Franciscans also composed the first Spanish-Tagalog dictionary (Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala) that was published in Pila, Laguna in 1613. The authorship of the first book printed in the Philippines in 1593, the first catechism on the 10 commandments in Tagalog, the first water system and free loan-banks (Montes de Piedad), the building of infrastructures such as roads, dams, and bridges were also attributed to the Franciscans.

One of the most outstanding Franciscans who ministered in the country was San Pedro Bautista (1542-1597) who developed key places in the country that would later become important cities.  He taught church music and the manufacture and use of musical instruments, discovered the medicinal characteristics of the hot springs of Los Baños, strongly defended the basic human rights of the indigenous peoples of Zambales and most importantly, an ambassador in Japan that would lead to his martyrdom.

From the time of their arrival in the country until the end of the Spanish Franciscan Mission in 1898, the missionaries were able to establish and administer 207 towns or parishes.

At present, the friars continue to minister in various parts of the country in numerous parishes, schools and in special ministries such as media apostolate; justice, peace, and integrity of creation initiatives; hospital chaplaincy and interfaith dialogue.

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