Bicol heritage: Where are the Franciscans?

/ 12:02 AM May 26, 2014

I have been a Franciscan for 53 years and a priest for 46. I have spent most of my ministry in the Archdiocese of Manila, including 18 years in Santuario de San Antonio, Forbes Park, Makati City, 10 years of which as parish priest (1997-2007). Now I am based in Cebu City.

In the Lifestyle section of the Inquirer issue of May 12, 2014, more than two-thirds of page D4 was devoted to the article “2013 Heritage Month opens in Bicol,” contributed by Edgar Allan M. Sembrano. The article was accompanied by pictures of the celebration and of the Daraga, Camalig churches and the Cagsawa ruins. Nowhere in the article was there any mention of the Franciscans, not even from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage, or from the local government that took part in the celebration.


The celebration was supposed to preserve “the province’s ecology and historical heritage…” and yet the historical aspect was sadly left out. Most of the colonial churches (13) in Albay alone were built by the Franciscans, including the ones in the photos (Daraga, Camalig and the ruined Cagsawa churches).

When the work of evangelization of the archipelago was started in earnest in the last quarter of the 1500s, the country was divided among the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits. The Franciscans had parishes in Bulacan (Obando, for example); Morong (now Rizal); almost the whole of Laguna; Tayabas (now Quezon); the Bicol peninsula; and later parts of Samar and Leyte. This can be seen in the special architecture used in the Franciscan churches (one belfry, with the convento attached to the church) and the patron saints venerated in them: San Francisco, San Antonio, San Pascual Baylon, San Buenaventura, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles and so on. In fact, the first bishop of Nueva Caceres (Naga) was San Pedro Bautista; he was martyred in Japan in 1596.


The Franciscans who administered more than 200 parishes in the 1800s slowly relinquished them when the local churches had enough priests to take over. Some of the parishes were relinquished only after World War II (like Los Baños in Laguna, Pilar and Donsol in Sorsogon, among others). In 1955, when I entered the seminary, we still went on summer vacations to Daraga and Camalig in Albay, which were given to the diocese only after Vatican II.

Today, the Franciscans have recently returned to continue our heritage in Bicol with parishes in Donsol, Sorsogon and in Catanduanes, aside from the new presence of the Poor Clare nuns in Tabon-Tabon, Albay and Cabid-an, Sorsogon. In most of the parishes there are active groups of the Order of Franciscan Seculars (former Tertiaries) and Young Franciscans (YuFra). I hope this very brief summary will help make up for the absence of this historical aspect in Sembrano’s article.


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