Cabanatuan is suffragan to the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. Its titular patron is St. Nicholas of Tolentine whose feast is celebrated September 10.
The Diocese of Cabanatuan lies on the North Eastern portion of the central plains of Luzon, Region III, hemmed in by Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Viscaya and Quezon provinces. It comprises 15 municipalities of southern Nueva Ecija; and the cities of Cabanatuan, Palayan and Gapan. Constituting the 3rd and 4th districts of the largest province in Cental Luzon, it covers a land area of 2,743.5 square kilometers.
As of 2008, the Catholic populace in the Diocese is 975,422 which is 80.45 percent of the total population of 1,212,407. The growth rate of the province is 2.0 percent, compared to the national growth rate of 2.04 percent. The average household size is 5 members per family. The ratio of priest to the faithful is 1:19,907.
Historically, Nueva Ecija was settled in the last century by thousands of migrants from adjoining provinces such as Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, Pangasinan and Ilocos. Today, Novo Ecijanos are descendants of these settlers and many still hold on to folk traditions that trace their ancestry to other provinces. About 77% of the people speak Tagalog as their first language. Much of the remainder are Kapampangan, Pangasinan, and Ilocano-speakers and they are concentrated in the cities and towns of the south and north. There are small communities of Ilongots along the Caraballo and Sierra Madre range as well as Agtas and Negritos.
Creation of the Diocese
The Diocese of Cabanatuan was created on Feb. 16, 1963 out of the territories taken from the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan and the Diocese of San Fernando and inaugurated on June 4, 1963. It comprised the entire civil province of Nueva Ecija and the chartered cities of San Jose, Cabanatuan and Palayan. It prides itself as one of the eight (8) provinces in the entire country which cried and fought for national independence from foreign denomination in the later part of 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.
On July 14, 1984, the Diocese of San Jose was canonically erected, paving the way for the partition of the diocese of Cabanatuan. The diocese retained 25 parishes in 18 municipalities and cities of the province.
To date, there are 28 parishes in 5 vicariates. The diocese is served by 47 active diocesan priests, 2 religious and 1 deacon. There are 4 priests on leave, 1 on study leave, 2 on sabbatical leave and 3 on loan to dioceses of other countries. Two (2) of the five retired priests are still helping in their respective mother parishes and another one in the seminary.
Pastoral Thrusts and Concerns
In consonance with its newly revisited Vision-Mission and in accordance with the recommendations of the three Diocesan Pastoral Assemblies, and fully aware of the challenges and concerns of the present, the Diocese has resolved to pursue the following thrusts and pastoral priorities 1) Renewed clergy and committed lay leaders; 2) Relevant Programs and Structures; 3) Unity and Solidarity Between and Among the Priests and Laity and 4) Renewed Evangelization.
The Diocesan consultation meeting on July 2, 2005 and Pastoral Consultation on July 11-13, 2005 came out with Action Programs such as creation of the self-managed Health Care Program of the Clergy; Clergy on going formation, annual retreats, rest and recreation; Clear cut policy on Arancel and parish finances; Mobilization of diocesan commissions (WESSTYF) and special ministries; Empowerment of lay organizations; Implementation of Diocesan uniformity on guidelines and policy on Chancery/parish transactions especially on the prescribed requirements on the celebration of sacraments and Inventory of parish properties.
Bishop Soforonio A. Bancud, SSS, DD, has also outlined the main thrusts and priorities of his episcopate that address the needs and concerns of the clergy, the lay leaders, and the local Church.
1. On Going Formation and Care of the Clergy - This has been articulated during the many retreats and seminars in the past. The Commission of the Clergy has been tasked to create programs, activities and fraternal encounters that would help and equip every member of the Clergy at any stage of his priestly life and ministry to address the needs and challenges of priestly life. This also includes the proper training of seminarians, the promotion and strengthening of vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life, the care of retired and elderly members of the clergy. For this reason, the Bishop has been doubling his efforts and prayers to solicit support for the ongoing formation programs of the clergy, the training of seminarians and the construction of the proposed Bahay Pari (house for priests) for the retired and elderly priests of the diocese.
2. Formation of Lay Leaders and Renewed Evangelization - Aware of the many challenges and present circumstances of the Church, the Bishop has been working hard for the renewal of Christian life and the rekindling of faith among the faithful. Through the office of the Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Action and the Pastoral Commissions, the lay leaders are regularly invited to various evangelization and catechetical seminars, leadership training and workshops, and pastoral consultations and planning both at parish and diocesan levels. Lay empowerment is being realized in their on-going formation, religious studies, discernment and active involvement in the various pastoral activities and programs, as well as in the exercise of their duties and responsibilities in their respective parishes and barangays. Active participation and responsible involvement are greatly promoted and encouraged. To say the least, the diocese is truly blessed with many generous, active and committed lay leaders and collaborators who even go extra-mile in their involvement.
3. The Full and Efficient Implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan - With the creation of the new Vision and Mission of the diocese, the Bishop has constantly rallied the clergy to fully implement the Diocesan Pastoral Plan (DPP) from the parish down to the barangay. Every pastor is encouraged to work hand in hand with his Parish Pastoral Council, the Barangay Pastoral Council, members of the different Lay Organizations and Religious Movements, and the parishioners in making concrete the intent and words of the DPP. In line with this is the honest observance also of the existing diocesan policies and norms in the administration of the sacraments, financial management and priestly ministry.
The province is presently headed by Gov. Aurelio Matias Umali, who assumed his gubernatorial duties after winning the 2007 elections. There are four congressional districts consisting of 27 municipalities and 5 cities.
The local Church is supported by the government in its advocacy campaign against illegal drugs, illegal numbers game specifically jueteng and STL, violence and extra-judicial killings, mining, etc. Through Pastoral letters issued and homilies given by the clergy, the diocese has also spoken against the proliferation of motels and beerhouses in the province.
The diocese of Cabanatuan is accessible only by land. It does not have an airport or seaport. People rely on buses, private cars, jeepneys, tricycles and motorbikes to move around the province or in going to the nearby towns or provinces, or in going to Manila. Generally, the road conditions are good. And travel time has been significantly reduced with the opening of the SCTEX in Tarlac City. There are regular and reliable transport facilities and moving in and out of the province is not a problem. Tricycles are the most common means of transportation in the cities and are also the main cause of traffic during rush hours.
The province is linked to the main highway of Luzon, the Maharlika highway through a system of roads that interconnect the various municipalities. This road system makes Nueva Ecija easily accessible from any of the surrounding provinces and from Manila as well. The large population and its location along the main highway of Luzon make the province an important trade and commercial center. Nueva Ecija is also home to one of the largest hydro-electric dams, the Pantabangan Dam, and is connected to the Luzon grid. These facilities provide ample power supplies, irrigation and potable water to all the towns of the province. Commercial, rural and government banking institutions operate within the province and extends financing facilities for business and agriculture. Cabanatuan City boasts of modern establishments serving a large consumer market that can absorb further commercial development.
In Nueva Ecija there exist three climate types. In the province's southwest, a pronounced dry season occurs from November to April while rain falls during the rest of the year. In the east, close to the Sierra Madre Mountains, rain falls evenly throughout the year while in the north and northeast; there is no pronounced seasonal variance although it is relatively dry between the month of April and November.
Nueva Ecija belongs to first class classification as regards its income and financial resources. It is considered the main rice growing province of the Philippines; also the leading producer of onion (in the municipality of Bongabon) in South East Asia. In June 2008, it has also received the title: Milk Capital of the Philippines due to the reason that Nueva Ecija gathers more milk from both cows and kalabaws (water buffalo) than any other place in the Philippines. Other major crops are corn, mango, banana, eggplant and garlic. Fishponds are unevenly distributed throughout the province but the largest concentrations are in San Antonio, Sta. Rosa and Cuyapo. Several areas have mineral deposits. Copper and manganese have been found in General Tinio, Carranglan and Pantabangan. The upper reaches of Carranglan and Palayan City are said to contain gold.
Most of the faithful have an average or below-average income level and their main source of income are employment and farming. The province has naturally rich soil. Lowland crops such as rice, corn, onions, vegetables and sugarcane are produced in great quantities. Being the biggest rice producer of Central Luzon and the Philippines, it is referred to as the "Rice Granary of the Philippines."
Furthermore, Nueva Ecija is taking the initiative to greatly improve agricultural production and at the same time develop a vibrant agro processing sector. The Palayan City economic Zone is encouraging investments in food processing and is providing potential investors the facilities and amenities to support their activities.
Nueva Ecija's terrain begins with the southwestern marshes near the Pampanga border. It levels off and then gradually increases in elevation to rolling hills as it approaches the mountains of Sierra Madre in the east, and the Caraballo and Cordillera ranges in the north.
The Diocese operates 2 Catholic colleges, 13 high schools, 14 elementary, 15 kindergarten, 13 preparatory and 11 nursery schools. There are many other non-sectarian and public schools in the entire province.
Agriculture has played a vital role in molding the culture of the people. The typical Novo Ecijano family is tightly knit and is the basic working unit in the farm. Life at its simplest form revolves around the farm and family matters.
The May and June festivals in Nueva Ecija are important Christian observances that are also occasions for family reunions and for asking blessings or favors in ensuring a good harvest. In May, the Novo Ecijanos celebrate the Feast of the patron of farmers, San Isidro. Food is served to overflowing in the belief that generosity results in bounty.
In barangay Bibiclat, in the town of Aliaga, there is a unique practice among the devotees of St. John the Baptist during the annual celebration of his feast day, June 24. They cover their bodies with mud, dry leaves and vines to denote the humble origins of the saint. Known as the Taong Putik or the mud people, they ask for alms and candles from the people and offer them to the Church during the special mass celebrated at 7:00 in the morning. They believe that such a practice will cure sickness and also bring a bounty harvest.
Historical landmarks in the Diocese
- Gen. Luna Statue and Marker (Cabanatuan City) A statue of Philippine hero General Antonio Luna astride a horse stands at the Plaza Lucero in front of the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Cathedral on the exact spot where the brave general was assassinated in 1899 in the city that adopted him subsequently.
- Camp Pangatian (Cabanatuan City) Began as a military training camp for twenty years until converted into a concentration camp for allied prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation. A popular tourist destination among war veterans by way of the WWII Veteran's Homecoming Program.
- Gapan. The first Augustinian mission in lowland Nueva Ecija was founded in Gapan in 1595. It is home to a Roman Catholic church of Byzantine ar