(Archidiocesis Nominis lesu sive Caebuana)

Created diocese: August 14, 1595. Erected: May 1, 1596. Elevated to Archdiocese: April 28, 1934. Comprises: the civil province of Cebu, 44 municipalities and 9 cities. Suffragan: the dioceses of Dumaguete, Maasin, Tagbilaran, Talibon. Titular: Most Holy Name of Jesus

Philippine history and the beginnings of the Archdiocese of Cebu coincide at the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet in what was then the town of Zubu, ruled by Rajah Humabon and his Queen. The encounter between two different cultures began auspiciously, culminating in the baptism of eight hundred subjects of Humabon. The occasion merited for the Queen a gift from the conquistadores, a small statue of the Child Jesus in kingly regalia, orb and scepter in hand, an elaborate crown on its head. It was impressive even for a lady who had seen some of the finest crafts from China ad the outlying lands to the east, trade partners of a village which, even at that time, had already established itself as a flourishing trade outpost.

The Spanish foothold was immediately resisted by Lapulapu, the chieftain of Mactan. Magellan perished in what could have been a traditional rivalry between two chieftains. The defeat of the white men proved the superiority of Lapulapu over everything that the Spaniards stood for, including their strange story of a crucified man whose representation as a baby in regal clothing they did not quiet understand. This effectively pushed the Cebuanos back into paganism, even as remnants of Magellan’s fleet are said to have sought refuge in the island of Bohol and kept the faith there until the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries in that island in 1594.

The expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1567 marked the formal conquest and evangelization of Cebu and the Philippine islands. Inspired perhaps by the courage of Lapulapu, and seeking to vindicate their acquiescence to the vanquished Magellan, the Cebuanos were determined this time to fight on the right side. Legazpi too, had come prepared. He had the village bombarded first become coming ashore to claim the spoils for crown and cross.

From among the ashes, the Spanish soldier Juan de Camus found intact the image of the Santo Niño. He may well have found the Cebuanos’ stillborn faith in a cradle of debris. But the cross was soon to be planted in their village once again, henceforth to serve as reminder to all who would pass by its storied harbor, that while the Cebuanos resisted authority of the Spaniards, their hearts had forever fallen for the smile of the Little Child who holds the world in his little hand.

With the help of the Augustinian missionaries who came with the expedition, the faith spread rapidly to neighboring islands. The island of Cebu had about 25,000 to 40,000 inhabitants at this time. These were evangelized by the Augustinians who came with Legazpi. As more missionaries arrived in 1569, it did not take very long before the whole island came under the shadow of the cross. On June 11, 1580, six convents were established in the Visayas. The parish of Bantayan in the north evolved from one of these convents. Four years later, the parish of San Nicolas was founded.

When Legazpi decided to transfer his capital to Manila, Cebu receded into the backwaters as influence and power shifted north to Luzon and its wide expanse of fertile lands. In 1578, Manila became a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Mexico, and in 1595, it became an archdiocese with three suffragans: Cebu, Nueva Segovia and Caceres.

The Diocese of Cebu extended west to Panay and east to the Marianas. It covered the whole of Mindanao. This extensive area posed a daunting task to the limited number of missionaries who had to spread the Gospel to the far flung outposts of the Diocese. The situation was exacerbated by the recalcitrance of the natives, who naturally viewed the Spanish missionaries with suspicion and mistrust.

To help them in pacifying the natives and to facilitate the preaching of the Gospel, perhaps in the native tongue, the missionaries trained young catechists, local boys conversant with the faith, to accompany them in their missions. These young boys were educated in “seminaries” run by the Jesuits in Cebu and Loboc in Bohol. The training did not prepare them to be priests, but they were real apprentices who were educated in “many Christian virtues such as modesty and piety, edifying the Christian community and behaving as pious novices.” One of them might have been Pedro Calungsod, the Visayan lay catechist who perished with the Jesuit Diego de Sanvitores in 1672 in an attempt to evangelize the Marianas.

Distance having shielded the fledging Diocese from the intrigues and power struggles of the Capital, much of Cebu’s ecclesiastical history is a leisurely narrative of arrivals and foundations, of synods and celebrations.

The arrival of the missionaries was always a welcome relief for a diocese as expansive as Cebu. The Augustinians of course arrived with Legazpi, and their immediate assignment was to build a shrine for the Sto. Niño. The   first bishop of Cebu was himself an Augustinian, Fray Pedro de Agurto. He is credited with the establishment of the primary ecclesiastical structures of the islands, which he stabilized by the way of the first Diocesan Synod in 1600.

The Synod provided guidelines for the teaching of Christian doctrine. To this end, the early Cebuano translation of the catechism was revised and polished, and the evangelization of the far-flung islands of the Diocese was firmly pushed with the help f the missionary orders.

In 1621, the Recollects established their first convent, the “La Concepcion” in Ermita, in an area now occupied by the University of San Jose Recoletos. Together with the Jesuits and the Augustinians, they fanned out into the neighboring villages, founding not only stone churches and convents but also “reducciones”, the nucleus of today’s towns and cities.

The missionaries were not only responsible for the Christianization of the people; they also organized the populace into neat communities, gathering, by moral or physical suasion the scattered habitations into settlements that are arranged around the central plaza and the stone church. The “municipio” was always built as a counterpoint to the church, to remind the people perhaps that they were not only subjects of Christ but of the Spanish kings as well.

The opening of Manila to world trade in 1834 transformed the economic landscape of the Islands. The successful control of the Moro raids and native resistance brought relative peace and stability to the Colony. This favorable condition augured well for the growth and development of the Islands, speeding up as well the foundation of ecclesiastical units throughout the Diocese.

The burgeoning population of the Diocese and its unwieldy geographical structure necessitated its break-up into two dioceses. In 1850, the Diocese had a population of 1,280,402 Christians. In contrast, Manila had 1,329,894. By 1860, Cebu had already 1,700,000 souls.

Since Panay had the largest population among the islands that belonged to the Diocese, it became the natural choice for the seat of the new diocese. The chief port of the island, Iloilo was then emerging as a growth center and was in fact slowly replacing Cebu as the second most important port in the Colony. In January 17, 1865, the Diocese of Jaro was erected, with territorial jurisdiction over the islands of Panay, Negros, Romblon, Calamianes and most of Mindanao.

From a fledging ecclesiastical jurisdiction struggling to establish itself in the numerous islands of its vast territory, the Diocese of Cebu finally found stability in the 19th century, whence it began to turn its attention to the material needs of its constituents. In 1816, Bishop Joaquin de Sopetran converted a house for leprous patients into a full-scale “Hospital de Lazarinos”. Bishop Romualdo Jimeno established the “Casa de Caridad” in 1864. It was later rehabilitated and renamed “Hospital de San Jose”. Bishop Martin Garcia Alcocer founded the “Casa de Socorro de Cebu” in 1887.

Schools were a primary concern of the Church. Evolving from the catechism classes of an earlier era, the universities and colleges of modern Cebu truly came from “the bosom of the Church”. In 1595, the Jesuits founded a small school in the Parian district, the nucleus of what later became the “Colegio de San Ildefonso”. The expulsion of the Jesuits caused the transfer of the school into the hands of the Diocesan Bishop. In 1783, the Colegio was converted into a seminary and was renamed “Seminario Conciliar de San Carlos Borromeo”. From this seminary also originated the former “Colegio de San Carlos”, presently University of San Carlos.

The relative peace and stability of the 19th century belied the seething cauldron of popular disenchantment with Spanish rule. In April 3, 1898, Cebu felt the repercussions of the Philippine Revolution in the local uprising of Leon Kilat. Hardly had its effects simmered down when the coming of the Americans severed the Church from its traditional partnership with the state. The Aglipayan schism did little to heal the wounds engendered by the social and political upheavals at the advent of the 20th century.

These and other problems characterized this particularly stormy period in the history of the Diocese. Seasoned by similar difficulties in the past, the Church in Cebu managed to survive against all odds under the new colonial order.

The Philippinization of the local Church radically increased the number of Filipino priests in the Diocese. They now constituted the majority in parish administration in contrast to the Spanish era. To the delight of the Cebuanos, Fr. Juan B. Gorordo, one of their own, succeeded Bishop Thomas Hendrick in 1910 as Bishop of Cebu. He served the Diocese faithfully until 1931, when he succumbed to ill-health. Bishop Gabriel Reyes took possession of the Diocese in 1934.

On April 28, 1936, two years after Bishop Reyes’ assumption, Cebu was elevated into an Archdiocese by Pope Pius XI. Under the new Metropolitan Province of the Santísimo Nombre de Jesus were the suffragan dioceses of Jaro, Calbayog, Zamboanga, Bacolod, and Cagayan de Oro.

The Second World War caused great physical, social and economic dislocation in the new Archdiocese. Many old churches were reduced to rubble. Little was left of the Cathedral, which had just been embellished for the 20th Sacerdotal Anniversary of Archbishop Gorordo in 1940.

The task of post-war reconstruction fell upon Archbishop Julio Rosales who took possession of the Archdiocese in 1950. His incumbency proved to be the longest and certainly one of the most fruitful for the Archdiocese. The resoundingly successful celebration of the 4th Centenary of the Christianization of the Philippines in 1965 focused national and international attention on Cebu. Not long after, Archbishop Rosales was raised to the College of Cardinals, making Cebu one of the few Archdioceses in the world to merit a Cardinal as Archbishop.

The illustrious career of Cardinal Rosales came to an end at his death on June 20, 1983. His able co-adjutor, then Msgr. Ricardo Vidal, was installed Archbishop of Cebu on September 18 of the same year. The former Archbishop of Lipa, Msgr. Vidal was reluctant at first to accept the heavy responsibility of administering an Archdiocese whose culture and traditions are rather different from his former environment. But his quiet ways and conciliatory stance quickly won for him the affection and devotion of the Cebuanos.

Gifted with expansive vision and a firm and steady hand, the new Archbishop quickly set out to put his stamp upon the face of the Archdiocese. In January 15, 1984, barely five months after his installation, he announced the convocation of a Diocesan Synod, the fourth in the history of Cebu, to “review the progress attained by the Archdiocese in the last 50 years of its existence” and “provide for the pressing pastoral needs in the coming decades”.

The elevation of Archbishop Vidal to the College of Cardinals on May 25, 1985 argued well for the Synod, which formally opened in November 10, 1985. Under the Cardinal’s inspiring leadership, the assembly of clerics and lay people formulated a guiding vision for the Archdiocese’s encounter with the third millennium.

The 75th Anniversary of Cebu as an Archdiocese comes at a time when the vision of the Synod has begun to transform the structural landscape of the Archdiocese. The seeds of the basic ecclesial communities, sown right after the Synod, has begun to bear fruit in the lives of the faithful.

Looking back to the 400 years of growth and development, there is much to be thankful for. But, as Cardinal Vidal puts it, the greater reason to celebrate is that we have been privileged enough to be the ones to celebrate. God has placed us in this unique time and place to be able to celebrate the Diocese’s four hundred years of existence. Not everyone has been given such an opportunity.

With every privilege, however there is a corresponding responsibility: that as we celebrate the past, we also inaugurate the future. Lest we forget, 400 years is but a chapter in the continuing history of the Archdiocese of Cebu.