A Philippine church, which traces its start to American colonisation in the early 1900s, is now 100 years old and leaders and its members are now celebrating the legacies of Protestantism for "a century of God’s faithfulness and love" - writes Maurice Malanes.
"Protestantism definitely helped uphold our right to religious expression," Bishop Marino Inong told ENInews. "With Protestantism, the Bible was opened to people for study and scrutiny."
Inong is the senior pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, located in Baguio, a northern Philippine mountain city of 400,000 that was first established as a summer capital by Americans in 1909. The church traces its roots to the works of early American missionaries whose Filipino disciples "came together in fellowship" on 11 February 1911 to establish the forerunner of what is now the UCCP-Baguio.
After almost 400 years under Spanish rule, the Philippines' dominant religion was Roman Catholicism until the United States took control in 1898. "For over three centuries, Roman Catholicism was the imposed religion," Inong said.
He said the introduction of Protestantism "opened the eyes of Filipinos to other expressions of the Christian faith."
Still, during the early decades of Protestantism, there was "an atmosphere of animosity between Roman Catholics and Protestant converts," said retired UCCP-Baguio Bishop Juan Marigza.
ENInews spoke to Marigza before he delivered a homily during a special centennial thanksgiving service on 11 February. "Since we Protestants stress strengthening our faith through Bible study, Roman Catholics then would taunt us, even claiming we were heretics, because for them, only authorised Catholic clergy should interpret the Bible," he said.
However, he said, Protestant churches such as the UCCP-Baguio "persevered in stressing studying the Bible, not only during Sunday Schools, but also in the homes of members."
Protestant-Roman Catholic animosity gradually ebbed beginning in the late 1960s after the Second Vatican Council's reforms, led by Pope John XXIII, said Marigza. He recalled that the pope had said that the church should "open the windows to let the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit come to all people."
In 1961, the Vatican created the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity and appointed the first representative to the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held that year in New Delhi. This development led to Roman Catholic-Protestant collaboration in translating the Bible into various Philippine languages, starting in 1976, said Marigza, who was part of the translation team.
"So as we celebrate a century of the Lord's faithfulness and love, we are also happy that in our hundred-year journey as a church, we have witnessed in our lifetime the seeds of Christian dialogue and unity," he said.
The UCCP-Baguio, with about 4,000 members, is among the mainline Protestant churches – which include Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Salvation Army.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]