Abra, a hub of missionary activity

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By Benny Balweg

Snapshot Focus

Friday, September 27, 2013


AFTER three days, the month of October will be here. This month is observed by the Roman Catholic Church as month of the foreign missions.

The Philippines was part of such "foreign" missions from the viewpoint of continental Europe, especially the seat of Roman Catholicism that is Rome, Italy.

In the Philippines, the province of Abra in northern Luzon was a focal point of missionary activity, meaning conversion to Christianity of the "pagan" natives, to be denominated in time as Tinguians. These Tinguians were "pagans," "itneg," non-Christians. Whatever was not Christian was satanic, evil. So they had to be converted and baptized into Christianity to be saved from eternal damnation.

According to Fr. Dominic T. Gaioni, SVD, the Tinguians were mentioned for the first time in a letter of Fr. Dominic de Salazar to the King of Spain in 1585; Bengues, now Bangued, was occupied by Spanish-Ilocano forces to protect Spanish missionaries from the headhunting Tinguians and to locate gold mines. Soon in 1598, Bangued was organized into a Mission Station by Frs. Mari and Miñon to serve ascathecisation center for the infieles (infidels) and in 1999 it was made a pueblo (town). In 1610, a band of Tinguians attacked a party of Fr. Baltazar Fort, the Dominican Provincial, at Agnanayon Pass, near Narvacan. In 1612, Bangued became an independent mission territory of the Augustinians, with Fr. Pedro Columbo as in-charge.

In 1615, Fr. Juan Pareja baptized 3,000 Tinguians through the help of a certain Don Miguel Dumawal. Five years after that, the population of Abra was about 25,000, in which there were about 3,000 Christians in 1624. Two years later, Fr. Pareja organized Sabangan, Tayong (now Tayum) and Bukaw (now Dolores), north of Bangued. These villages were in continuous warfare with the village of Talimay (now San Quintin), Palang Nataan, Calaba and Cabulao.

In 1669, Fr. Gabriel Alvarez, who arrived from Lepanto, built a chapel in Tayum. In 1680, the Bishop of Nueva Segovia moved his residence from La Cagayan to Vigan to serve as interim administrator to the natives of Bengues (Bangued). (The supposed founding date of the modern and present Capital Town of Bangued, according to Cavada, was 1704.)

In 1718, Fr. Jose Echevaria started to work near Dingras, followed by the organization of Patok (now Peñarubia) five years after, under the Spanish Regime, so with Tayum two years later.

However, despite many mission centers, negligible success was achieved among the Tinguians in the first quarter of the eighteenth century so that Tomas Ortiz recommended a more heavy-handed method of converting the "pagans" with least resistance. In 1742, however, Fr. Jose Tomas Marin reached Anayon, Tineg from the Megara River in Apayao. In 1743, Auditor General Arzadon punished the gobernadorcillas of the Spanish king who were subject of complaint for forcing Tinguians to cut firewood andwork without pay.

In 1745, Fr. Gabriel organized Ganagan (now San Juan). In 1758, Auditor Don Ignacio de Arzadon noted that the Tinguians were after all a quiet people, of good habits and, though pagans, excelled many Christians in the same practices. But, ironically, he expelled those who refused baptism from the organized communities, ili, and equivalently confiscated their property; no Tinguian in native dress was allowed to enter into town. Apostates were seized and imprisoned by the Governor.

The style produc many converts but it produced growing resentment among those loyal to the old customs. It also encouraged seizure of land and exploitation by incoming Ilocano Christians from the Ilocos Coast and caused ill will against them that has simmered in a way up to this day. Fortunately, though, the histori irritant is now being forgotten by new generations of Abranians.

The same sacrificing patience and perseveranceof selfless mission zeal created new Christians in other major areaslike Baay, now part of Licuan-Baay Municipality,then Bucay, and Manabo; San Guillermo, now Sadag, Sallapadan.

The Start of the twentieth century brought the Americans to the Philippines but, surprisingly, did not dent the influence of Roman catholicism in Abra unlike in Kalinga and other areas inland. In 1909, the SVD missionaries arrived. They were mostly Germans trained in their headhouse in Steyl, The Netherlands. SVD is from the Latin Societas Verbi Divini, Society of the Divine Word frounded by St. Arnold Jansen.
In 2009, the Society of the Divine Word celebrated the centennial of its establishing a mission station in Abra, particularly in present San Isidro. The parish bears the honor of having two bodies of the first two SVD missionaries entombed in its very heart, a fitting symbol of how Abra welcomed Christian missionaries from a far away land and the very Seat of Christendom that thought of the former subprovince of Ilocos Sur as a foreign missionland. Mayor Pacsa and the whole Pacsa family, double Congratulations!

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on September 28, 2013.

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