ROXAS CITY, Capiz -- Is the cross venerated in a chapel next to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu the one planted by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, or the one erected by Augustinian missionary Fray Martin de Rada, OSA, in the 1560s?
This question was raised here by Fr. Dedert Duarte, OSA, a researcher on Rada and a doctoral student at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster in Germany, during the three-day Fray Martin de Rada International Conference that ended on November 18.
Duarte said that Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA, in his work "Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, 1565-1615," wrote about a "miracle" in Cebu where a fire had burned at least 30 houses but not the "bamboo cross" that Rada had erected at the door of their mission house.
San Agustin's work formed part of the 55-volume "The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898," a series of Philippine historical documents in Spanish and translated into English by historians Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson.
"Then the fire breaking out so furiously had burned more than thirty houses within an incredibly short time, and among these was ours," Duarte said, quoting the translation of San Agustin's work.
"The flame enveloped the cross on all sides, but did not burn in, or even smoke it. When the religious saw the present marvel, they had the bells run as a sign of rejoicing," San Agustin added.
Duarte noted that because of the said miracle, the Cebuanos had been venerating Rada's cross.
"Could this cross be the one encased inside that wooden cross at the center of the chapel in Cebu?" he asked, even as he urged further research to shed light on this question.
San Agustin further wrote: "From that time, the natives began to have a deeper idea of the mysteries preached to them by the religious, since they saw the proof of them with their own eyes."
Duarte was one of the 10 speakers in the conference organized by the Commission on Augustinian History and Cultural Heritage (CAHCH) of the Province of Santo Niño de Cebu-Philippines and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
His paper, titled "Hacia la conquista espiritual: Fray Martin de Rada's Missionary and Evangelization Methods," took a closer look at the initial stage of evangelization and the situation in the Philippines, particularly in Cebu and Panay where Rada preached.
Duarte revealed Rada's zeal and genius in introducing the Christian faith to the natives, which made him the prototype of modern missionaries.
He also discussed the methods used by the missionaries, which included learning the local language, the instruction and administration of sacraments and the testimonies of life.
Rada, born in 1533 and is considered the founder and spiritual father of the Christian church in the Philippines, was one of the five Augustinian missionaries who arrived in the Philippines in April 1565 from Mexico with Don Miguel López de Legazpi.
The mission's leader was Andrés de Urdaneta, OSA, while their three other companions included Fray Andrés de Aguirre, Fray Pedro de Gamboa, and Fray Diego de Herrera.
Two months later, Urdaneta and Aguirre returned to Mexico, leaving the burden of evangelization to Rada, then 32 years old, and his companions who are both old and sickly.
NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Badoy described Rada's ministry as "a mission which he performed with great zeal."
"With Cebu as his starting point, he traveled from one island to another, preaching the Gospel to anyone who would listen and baptizing everyone who would heed his preaching," he noted.
Rada became the superior of the Augustinians in the Philippines by 1572 and its first Prior Provincial when the new Province of the Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines was established in 1575.
"In his bid to win over the natives to the Catholic religion, he extensively studied the Visayan languages and instructed his companions to do the same, delivered his sermons in the same languages, and started work on a dictionary to help his fellow Spaniards in conversion with the locals," Badoy added.
Rada is also remembered as a great defender of the Filipino people against the abuses of Spanish officials in the collection of tributes, and recorded these acts in a document he sent to Spain in 1574. (Nereo C. Lujan)