500TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FAITH IN THE PHILIPPINES (5) – Maximum Illud, its Significance to the Philippine Church


– Fr. Leonard E. Dollentas

Pope Francis has recently appointed Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza as the new Apostolic Nuncio to Spain. The Holy See’s Press Office published his appointment on October 1, 2019. His appointment came as the Philippines prepares for the celebration of the 500th anniversary in 2021 of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines through the Spanish missionaries. The Filipino bishops welcomed this news with much joy. Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Diocese of Balanga stated that it is “very significant and meaningful that the new papal envoy to Spain will be a Filipino” and he emphasized that “[o]n the forthcoming grace-filled event of 500 years of Christianization of our country, the Philippine Church gives her gift and gratitude in the person of Archbishop Auza.”

Indeed, the archbishop’s appointment echoes Pope Francis’ intention for the 100th anniversary of Maximum Illud: “that missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive.  Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!  It is in commitment to the Church’s universal mission that the new evangelization of Christian peoples will find inspiration and support.”

This article will present a brief historical survey on the gradual development on the training, ministry and the changes that have taken shape within the Filipino Clergy and the Philippine Church after the Apostolic Letter Maximum Illud was promulgated.

The Coming of Maximum Illud

Within the preparatory phase of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines is the centenary of Maximum Illud, the Apostolic Letter issued by Benedict XV on November 30, 1919. In this Apostolic Letter, the pope set out the guidelines for the Church’s missions that have been increasingly independent from the colonizers of that period, through the localization of the clergy and the episcopate: “There is one final, and very important, point for anyone who has charge of a mission. He must make it his special concern to secure and train local candidates for the sacred ministry. In this policy lies the greatest hope of the new churches. For the local priest, one with his people by birth, by nature, by his sympathies and his aspirations, is remarkably effective in appealing to their mentality and thus attracting them to the Faith. Far better than anyone else, he knows the kind of argument they will listen to, and as a result, he often has easy access to places where a foreign priest would not be tolerated.” (14)

In effect, Benedict XV shed new light on the Church’s missionary direction. He was shifting the leadership of the church from the dominant countries to the periphery.  His efforts, however, would bear fruit under his successor, Pius XI, who ordained bishops for India in 1923, for China in 1926, for Japan in 1927, for Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia formerly associated with France) in 1937 and for Africa in 1937.

Revitalizing the Church

Maximum Illud came after the defeat of the Spanish colonial regime in 1898. The challenge it conveyed to the Church in the Philippines was timely and its wisdom was enormously valuable, when the Pope “turned to the bishops and superiors in charge of the Catholic missions, noting the need to train local clergy. Catholic missionaries are reminded that their goal is a spiritual one, which must be carried out in a selfless way (19-21). The Pope underlined as well the necessity of proper preparation for the work in foreign cultures and the need to acquire language skills before going there. He emphasized a continued striving for personal sanctity and praises the selfless work of female religious in the missions (30). He pointed out that mission is not only for missionaries, but all Catholics must also participate, through their Apostolate of Prayer, by supporting vocations, and by helping financially (30-36). The encyclical concludes by pointing out several organizations that organize and supervise mission activities within the Catholic Church (37-40).

The document eases out the Philippine Church from the remnants of a complex political situation brought about by the Spanish colonial regime and the influence of the friars. It initiated a paradigm shift for the church to work for a change in the mentality with which the church’s missionary work was being carried out: a shift towards inculturation in the church. 

Maximum Illud Guided the Transformation Taking Place

Along the years succeeding the promulgation of the Maximum Illud, there was a renewed organization of the seminary training of diocesan priests in the Philippines and a gradual change in leadership of dioceses.

Rome sent American prelates to oversee the Philippine dioceses: John Bernard McGinley who served as Bishop of Nueva Caceres from 1910 to 1924. Thomas Augustine Hendrick, the first American prelate to serve in the Archdiocese of Cebu from 1903 to 1909. Dennis Joseph Dougherty, was appointed Bishop of Nueva Segovia in 1903 and the fifth Bishop of Jaro on 1908. Frederick Zadok Rooker who was appointed bishop Jaro from 12 June 1903 to 1907. Jeremiah James Harty, who served as the 26th Archbishop of Manila from 1903 to 1916.

The development of the seminaries was evident in the description of Fr. Leo A. Cullum, S.J. in his article Diocesan Seminaries in the Philippines that appeared in Philippine Studies volume 20 no. 1 in 1972, he wrote: 

“The third age of the seminaries may be said to have begun in 1928 with the proliferation of dioceses. prelatures, vicariates, and prefectures. There have been 54 such in 43 years. This has meant also the multiplication of seminaries. The Society of the Divine Word and the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary have entered the field of seminary work in this era, and, especially in the minor seminaries, the diocesan clergy are playing a very important role with 23 seminaries under their administration.”

In 1916 the Irish Archbishop Michael O’Doherty succeeded the administration of the Archdiocese of Manila from Archbishop Jeremiah James Harty, an American prelate. Archbishop O’Doherty was the archbishop from 1916 to 1949. He was the last non-Filipino and the only Irishman to be ordinary of the Archdiocese, ending a long line of foreign prelates.

Appointments of Filipino Bishops

Under the watchful eyes of the Holy See, Filipino priests who were ready and capable were ordained bishops and took over dioceses.  Cebu Archbishop Gabriel M. Reyes became Manila’s first Filipino local ordinary of Manila in 1949. He previously served as Archbishop of Cebu from 1934 to 1949.

On June 10, 1953, it was announced that the priests of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (C.I.C.M. Fathers) would take over the administration of San Carlos Seminary, the country’s first seminary founded for the training of diocesan priests, from the Vincentians.

On March 28, 1960, Pope John XXIII elevated the archbishop of Manila Rufino Santos to the rank of Cardinal, making him the first Filipino cardinal. It was Cardinal Santos who turned over the seminary administration of San Carlos Seminary from the C.I.C.M. Fathers to the diocesan priests.  

Today the Catholic Church in the Philippines has 86 dioceses in 16 Ecclesiastical Provinces. These dioceses and apostolic vicariates have their own local Filipino bishops and seminaries preparing candidates for diocesan priesthood.

Indeed, the words of Pope Francis in his letter for the 100th anniversary of Maximum Illud continue to challenge the Philippine Church: “there still remains an enormous missionary task for her to accomplish.” Citing John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, he continued: “the mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion”; certainly, “an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *