ESSAY: Catholic Faith in Nueva Segovia (Last of three parts)

The present suffragan dioceses of Nueva Segovia are four. Montañosa was created as an apostolic prefecture on 15 July 1932 with Octavio Vandewalle, CICM, as prelate; and elevated to an apostolic vicariate on 10 1948 with William Brasseur, CICM, as first bishop. On 6 July 1992, Montañosa was divided into the apostolic vicariates of Baguio with Ernesto Salgado, as first bishop (he is at present the Archbishop of Nueva Segovia – Ed), Bontoc-Lagawe with Brigido Galasgas as first bishop . The present bishop is Most Rev. Francisco Claver, SJ. And Tabuk which was made suffragan of the Archdioceses of Tuguegarao with Carlos Cenzon, CICM, as first and present bishop. Bangued was created as a prelate nullius on 12 June 1955 with Odilo Etspueler, SVD, as first bishop and as a diocese on 15 November 1982. The present bishop is Most Rev. Artemio Rillera, SVD. Laoag was created as a diocese on 5 June 1961 with Antonio Ll. Mabutas as first bishop. He was followed by Most Rev. Edmundo M. Abaya, DD, (now retired).

The history of the Catholic faith and culture in Northern Luzon is also closely entwined with the history of its first seminary – the Immaculate Concepcion Seminary in Vigan, Ilocos Sur founded in 1822 by Bp. Francisco Alban, OP. This seminary has since then grown into a mighty tree of seminaries responsible in the formation of several bishops and numerous priests serving in the region. Both the major (since 1987) and the minor (since 1957) seminaries are now fully staffed by the diocesan clergy. It was served by OP, CM, OSA, OAR, SJ, and SVD Fathers.

It is worth mentioning here that Vigan was saved from the ravages of destruction during World War II mainly because of the efforts of Fr. Joseph Klekamp, SVD. It is now the only town in the country which has preserved most of its colonial houses (180 documented by the National Historical Institute), public and religious structures. In the meantime, some have been destroyed by unscrupulous renovations or misguided romantic reconstructions, others by fire like the old seminario in 1968. And many are now slowly being eaten up by gradual deterioration caused by natural decay due to the weather, vegetation growth, environmental pollution or simple human neglect and indifference.

However, for centuries, the Ilocano people have been known to be hardworking and thrifty. And they pride themselves for having produced four presidents since 1946. One writer in the 17th century wrote of them as the “most advanced as well as the cleanest people with the largest towns.” As they lived the early Christian instructions they have received, they experienced a situation of peace and order in their beloved lands. Fear of God as well as love and respect for humankind according to the Christian spirit, have been instilled and have remained imbedded in the people through their Christian upbringing. The practice of their Christian faith through the years, however, may now show signs of erosion. This can be gleaned from the different aspects of the religious life of the people in Nueva Segovia at present. A closer observation of their knowledge of the faith, sacramental life, moral life, prayer life, as well as pastoral life calls for continuous renewal period voiced out by the theme of NSPA I “towards a new Life in Christ”. A celebration of about 423 years of Christianity in the region may just offer another opportunity for a necessary reflection to guide one’s course of action. It may be a thing of the past but to ignore the past would be robbing the present of its meaning and depriving the future of its beacon.

In 1995, Nueva Segovia here in the Ilocos celebrated its fourth centennary as a diocese. Indeed, there is much hope that the Good News of Christ will continue to guide the lives of Ilocanos throuth the third millennium of Christianity in the world. #