Apostolic Vicariates of Puerto Princesa
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Palawan ... ... . known the world over as the Philippines last ecological frontier. It is where one is brought to vast tracts of rain forests and marine wilderness. It is 1,489,655 hectares and has a total of 1,780 islands and islets. It is subdivided into twenty three (23) municipalities, twelve (12) of which are in the mainland and the rest are island municipalities, four hundred twenty (420) barangays and one (1) city. It is the largest province in the country with fifty-two dialects. Tagalog of which is used by the majority. Cuyonin, Agutaynen, Cagayanen, Tagbanua, Bataks, Ken-uys and Palawan are some of the native tongues.

The people of Palawan share a rich heritage of history. It takes its roots from earliest known people as proven by the discovery of fossils at Tabon Cave. This discovery has earned Palawan the title the "Cradle of Philippine Civilization". The Church of Palawan continues to grow, sustain and nourish by the spirit of God. As one looks back, one cannot deny that the people of Palawan is blessed by the creative hands of God and guided by the same Spirit. The Christian faith having taken root centuries ago - it's full blossoming fortified by the sacrifices and blood of the early missionaries who were martyred in defending the native from Moro invaders. Despite this bloody struggle, "the Christian majority population of this province has been living in peaceful co-existence with their Muslim brothers of today".

The particular Church has its own beginning. Interplaying the historical events are the people who played important roles to achieve the ends of the mission.

The Early Beginnings of Evangelization Work in Palawan

Palawan (formerly known as Paragua) in the year 1622, Msgr. Pedro de Arce, the Augustinian Bishop of Cebu whose Palawan Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction belonged committed to the Augustinian Recollect the difficult task of evangelizing the group of islands called Calamianes, Cuyo and Palawan. The first evangelizers commissioned to evangelize were Fr. Francisco de San Nicolas, Fr. Diego de Sta. Ana, Fr. Juan de Sto. Tomas and the lay brother Francisco de la Madre de Dios.

In Cuyo (Batong Cuyo), where the valiant missionaries first landed, they saw the first fruit of their missionary labor: a thousand of the natives were baptized and the construction of the Catholic Church in the region. "De Palawan al cielo" from Palawan to Heaven - was the motto of the early evangelizers.

The Strategy of the Recollect Missions in the Evangelization

The missionaries started their mission by searching for scattered native settlement, followed by the establishment of towns, building of the Church, building of the mission school and building of the priest's residence. Only after these phases would they administer the sacraments.

Due to courage, zeal and dedication of the Recollect missionaries the natives welcomed them with open arms and ready to embrace the new doctrine and teachings of the truth of the Christian Religion. The natives by this time were living under the yoke of the Moslems who continually persecuted them. The missionaries become their protectors from the tyrannical rule of the Moslems in the South.

The Recollect Superior was compelled to order the abandonment of the Region in 1659. Due to continued attacks of the Moslems, the missionaries were forced to live in the mountains and continually fleeing from the enemies.

In 1670, the Recollect returned to Palawan and decided to construct forts at their expense in Cuyo, Agutaya and Culion. Other forts were also constructed in Linapacan, Taytay, Dumaran and Cagayancillo. These forts were built to protect the worshippers against the Moro attacks.

In 1871, the politico-military government of Puerto Princesa was founded, officially sealing, as it were, Spanish hegemony in the Palawan area. After the request of Gov. De Izquierdo for priests to minister to the spiritual needs of the settlers and natives, then Recollect Provincial, Fr. Mariano Del Pilar, assured the general to assign one or two Fathers for the ministry. On February 19, 1872, more than six years after Jaro was erected a diocese on May 27, 1865 and under whose jurisdiction belonged Palawan, the first Bishop of Jaro, Msgr. Mariano Cuartero y Medina issued the title and faculties of Military Chaplain of the colony of Puerto Princesa to Fr. Ezequiel Moreno.

(Saint) Fr. Ezequiel Moreno with his assistant Fr. Antonio Muro arrived in Palawan soil on March 4, 1872 and celebrated their first mass on Sunday, March 10, 1872 in a makeshift altar upon which was placed an image of Our Lady of Montserrat. It was on the 8th of December the Church was inaugurated and the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed Patroness of the Colony. The church remains to this day a living proof of St. Ezequiel's fervent devotion to the Blessed Mother.

The venerable Fr. Moreno worked untiringly for the pagan Tagbanuas who willingly embraced the Catholic faith. In his, ministry he was contacted with the famous Palawan fever, Malaria. On August 19, 1906, "fundador y primer misionero de Puerto Princesa, muerto en olor de santidad", in Monteagudo. Now a Saint, he left Palaweños with a miraculous "Balon-Pari" whose divine intercession made many healed and blessed by drinking or washing from the miraculous well. Fr. Antonio Muro, his assistant succeeded him. Fr. Agustin Perez arrived in Puerto Princesa on the 6th of July to help Fr. Muro continue the mission with the Tagbanuas.

In 1896, the Katipuneros rose up in arms against the Spanish government, which claimed the lives of fourteen Religious of the Order, so then the Superior decided to pull out their missionaries. It was in the year 1899, Fr. Domingo de Pablo the last missionary to leave Palawan. Since the time he left, "Christians did not see any priest for almost fourteen years". Yet in 1901, there were missionaries who were sent back by the Superiors of the Recollects for the reinstallation of the work. Pastoral work was limited to baptisms, confessions, weddings and religious instructions due to lack of missionaries. Despite tremendous hardships, the Church moved onward with the guidance of the Spirit.

The particular Church as Apostolic Prefecture

The advent years of missionary labors paved the way for Pope Pius X to establish Palawan as an Apostolic Prefecture. The erection of the Prefecture was widely known and appropriately celebrated - April 10, 1910. The bull of erection entitled "Novas Erigere Diocese", specifically mentioned the Apostolic Prefecture of Palawan aside from other elevated Dioceses. This Apostolic Prefecture, the first in the Philippines, was entrusted to the Recollect Fathers. Commanded by the "Bull" to be observed were: administration, donation, tax of the diocese, offices, rights and obligations of the Bishop and their successors, rights and duties of the faithful and clerics, and others of the same kind.

Fr. Fernando Hernandez was named Prefect Apostolic of Palawan but he soon declined after he was informed due to old age and chronic heart ailment which was readily accepted by competent authority. Fr. Victoriano Roman de San Jose was named to take his place. It was the feast of St. Augustine, the Patron Saint of Cuyo, when Fr. Roman took possession of the Prefecture. In August 28, 1911, Cuyo was "destined" to be the Prefect's Residence at the same time the seat of the Prefecture until 1926. The main concern of the Prefect were "visitas", construction of churches, establishment of schools, intensification of lay associations, administration of the sacraments and other devotional practices.

In 1938, Fr. Roman turned over the administration of the mission to a new leader, Fr. Leandro Nieto, as Prefect Apostolic. It was during the term of Fr Nieto when war broke out.

In 1937, being then Vicar Delegate, Fr. Nieto founded the Seminario de San Jose. The establishment of the seminary in Palawan was a concrete step towards progress of evangelization work. The Seminary formally opened during the solemn mass of the Holy Spirit on November 14, 1937, celebrated by Fr. Leandro Nieto and assisted by Fr. Federico Terradillos and Fr. Paulino Lerena.

Fr. Leandro Nieto's leadership had accomplished other means to progress in the evangelization work:

Foundation of the Holy Trinity College in Puerto Princesa, in 1939
St. Joseph Academy in Cuyo, in 1940
Sacred Heart of Jesus High School, Brooke's Point, in 1945
St. Augustine Academy, Coron, in 1946.

In 1967, Fr. Crisostomo Garnica, became the first Filipino Parish Priest of Puerto Princesa.

The particular Church as Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan

a) Most Rev. Gregorio Espiga Y Infante, OAR (1953-1987)

It was on July 3, 1955 when the Holy See elevated the Prefecture into an Apostolic Vicariate through the bull of erection entitled "Ad Christi Regnum" issued by Pope Pius XII, Msgr. Gregorio Espiga y Infante, OAR took possession of the Apostolic Vicariate on September 18, 1955. His Episcopal ordination was officiated by Most Rev. Rufino J. Santos Archbishop of Manila assisted by Most Rev. Manuel Yap, D.D., Bishop of Bacolod and Most Rev. Peregrin de la Fuente, O.P., D.D., Prelate of Batanes-Babuyanes last September 10, 1955. Since October 1953, when he started being the Prefect Apostolic, two years before the elevation of the Prefecture to the Apostolic Vicariate he had been involved in various pastoral works: formation of Catechist, forming religious organizations, expansion of the seminary and foundation of other mission centers, opening the schools' such as San Francisco Javier College - Narra in 1954 and St. Ezequiel Moreno High School - Liminangcong in 1970.

"Da mihi Animas" - give me souls - was the motto of the Bishop who zealously served the particular church for almost thirty two (32) fruitful years.

b) Most Rev. Francisco C. San Diego, D.D. (1987-1995)

When Bishop Gregorio Espiga retired from his Episcopal administration of the Vicariate on 18 December 1987, he was succeeded by Bishop Francisco C. San Diego, the first Filipino Bishop of Palawan from Obando, Bulacan, and titular Bishop of Zica. His Episcopal consecration as Coadjutor Bishop of Palawan was held in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Intramuros, Manila, officiated by the Most Rev. Bruno Torpigliani, D.D., Apostolic Nuncio and assisted by the Most Rev. Oscar V. Cruz, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and Most Rev. Gregorio Espiga, Vicar Apostolic of Palawan. Although he arrived in Palawan on 11 September, 1983, it was only four years after when he became Vicar Apostolic. Bishop San Diego continued what had been started by the Recollect Missionaries.

Bishop San Diego, brought in the "fresh air" and Aggiornamento of Vat. II. It was the beginning of great renewal of the Palawan He organized the Council of Administration to assist the Bishop in the administration of spiritual and material benefits of the vicariate. The Clergy began to get regular updatings on Canon Law Liturgy, Spirituality, Moral Theology and important aspects of Pastoral Management. Medical Pension Plan for priests was established. Seminary formation received his full support. He encouraged the establishment of Parish Pastoral Council in every Parish and other relevant religious organizations, associations and movements as his way of lay empowerment/participation in the pastoral life and mission in the church; enrollment of the Palawan Clergy in the CBCP Pension Plan; Trust fund of Seminario de San Jose for deserving Seminarians; Ongoing Formation of the Clergy; Retreats and Updating seminars for the clergy, religious and laity.

The Bishop was also known as a great "builder" as shown in the physical structures he put up since he took possession of the vicariate: construction of the new Seminary in Tiniguiban; built the AVPP Pastoral Center; constructed the Pre-College Seminary; bahay-pari; and renovation of the Bishop's Residence. He seems the "busiest and most traveled" Bishop of Palawan. He had regular and frequent pastoral visits to all the parishes. Reaching out and meeting parishioners at their barangay chapels made him close and dear to people's hearts.

True to his motto "Servus Dei" Servant of God," he seemed fulfilled reaching out to the tip most north and south mainland parishes; to the isolated north and south island parishes of Palawan, 680 kilometers tip to tip mainland and 1,780 islands and islets. He has drawn an Integrated Pastoral Program for the Apostolic Vicariate - "his Centerpiece for Evangelization". He envisioned the local Church of Palawan as people "strong in faith, bound by charity, sustained by hope and united in prayer".

Upon the mandate of the Holy See, Bishop San Diego was transferred to a new Episcopal see - the Diocese of San Pablo. He took canonical possession of the particular Church on 22 August 1995.

c) Most Rev. Pedro D. Arigo, D.D. (1996 to the present)

On March 5, 1996, Fr. Pedro D. Arigo was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan and Titular Bishop of Mactaris. His Episcopal ordination was held in his hometown in St. Mary Magdalene Parish, Kawit, Cavite on May 18, 1996 officiated by his Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila with co-ordaining Prelates Most Rev. Deogracias Iñiguez, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, and Most Rev. Francisco C. San Diego, Bishop of San Pablo Laguna and in the presence of Most Rev. Gian Vincenzo Moreni, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines. He was installed as Vicar Apostolic of Palawan on June 4, 1996, by his Excellency Most Rev. Gian Vincenzo Moreni, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines. The auspicious occasion, the consecration of a new Bishop is always the cause of celebration in the church for it proves the ever continuing love and care God has for His bride, the Church. We witness how God provides Shepherds to pasture his flock.

Inscribed in his coat of arms are the words "Suprema Lex Dilectio" Love is the Supreme Law. This reflects his simplicity, uprightness and integrity. It is an invitation to "love me as I have loved you first." Love alone is the fulfillment of God's command. Even the loftiest gifts of faith, preaching prophesies and self-sacrifice amount to nothing without love (1 Cor 13). As he faces his ministry, he fervently prays that all his endeavors in the service of community of Disciples in Palawan be animated and permeated by love. True to his motto, he came to Palawan to fulfill the greatest commandment of love. His pasturing will embue and perfect his sheeps in love.

First Pastoral Assembly of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan 1996 - 1997

On August 1-15, 1997, the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan conducted a Pastoral Assembly that aimed to respond to the challenges of renewal in the Third Millennium. It was realized through the leadership of Bishop Arigo with full cooperation of the clergy, religious and the laity.

Preparation stage of the first Pastoral Assembly

I. Convocation - September 8, 1996
II. Parish Assembly Committee (PAC)- October, November, December, 2006
III. Seminar-Workshop members of the PAC by district (southern, Central, Northern) - Second week of October, 1996
IV. Assembly Survey - October, November, December, 1996
V. Parish Pastoral Profile - October, November, December,1996
VI. Consultation/Dialog - January, 1997
VII. District Synthesis - January, 1997
VIII. Assembly Symposia (District Level) -January, 1997
IX. Vicarial Profile and Synthesis - February, 1997
X. Writing of Position Papers (by concerns) - February, 1997
XI. Assembly, Symposia and Colloquia - March to April, 1997
XII. Assembly Celebration - August 1 - 15

The First Pastoral Assembly of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan was held at Seminario de San Jose on 1-15 August 1997 headed by the Apostolic Vicar with 200 participants: Clergy, Religious and the laity from 34 parishes of the whole Apostolic Vicariate. They all where one in their aims in the assessment of the pastoral situation of the particular Church, confront pastoral problems, come up with solutions and pastoral decrees to assist the Bishop in his administration of the Vicariate so that from the past till forever, "GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL" (1Cor. 15:28).

The theme of the first Pastoral Assembly: Palawan in Pilgrimage to the Third Millennium.

Areas of concern of the first pastoral assembly

Areas of concerns of the First Diocesan Synod of Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan: 1. Evangelization and Catechesis 2. Worship 3. Social and Special Concerns 4. Catholic Education 5. Seminary Formation 6. Ecumenism 7. Temporalities

Agents of change: Clergy, Religious, Laity, Youth, Family

The First Vicarial Assembly of the Apostolic Vicariate is a response to the challenges set forth by the PCP II and the PCM II and the celebration of the Jubilee 2000 which lead to the integral renewal of our faith, renewal of the particular church and to recognize that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8) thru the intercession of the Blessed Mother and St. Ezequiel Moreno.

The local church defines its vision as a community of disciples, renewed and with the concern for the poor and the environment, responding to the signs of the times, one with the Father, animated by Christ guided by the Holy Spirit and nourished by the sacraments.

Translating this vision is yet another challenge. The rugged terrain of mainland Palawan and the inaccessible islands calls for renewed effort of pastoral ministry particularly from the ordained. It is here that the church is born through sacramental celebrations in communities present in deep forests that could be reached only on foot (travel sometimes lasts for eight hours) coastal communities that is accessible only through banca ride and island communities that could be reached when the open sea is navigable.

The important thrust of the ministry of the Church of Palawan is its Social Apostolate. Highlight of the social apostolate of the Vicariate is the Indigenous People Apostolate aimed to provide services to tribal groups considered to be marginalized. The Augustinian Missionaries in the Philippines and the Marist Brothers live with tribal communities and minister to them. Part of the program is literacy and numeracy aimed to empower the tribal communities and allowing them to defend their rights. Community-based health programs, biodiversity conservation network sustainable agriculture projects, ancestral domain processing, ecology program, rural water supplies are some of programs under the Commission on Social Action of the Vicariate.

Through the help of various Religious Congregations the Vicariate tries to address the various social concerns of the Church. The Compassionist Sisters and Amigonians Fathers assist the vicariate in taking care of the orphans and the street children, a product of the urbanization of the Puerto Princesa, the center of province. The Dominican Sisters of Catherine of Sienna and the Augustinian Recollect Sisters are key movers in catholic education in the local church. The Religious of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters together with three priests of the Apostolic Vicariate minister to prisoners in the Iwahig Penal Colony. The Augustinian Missionaries of the Philippines Sisters and Marist Brothers of the Schools for our Indigenous People. The Missionary Sisters of the Lord's Table "Mensa Domini" focuses on Catechetical Ministry and the BEC Programs of the Vicariate. The Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd "Pastorelle" take Charge of the Catechetical, Youth Ministry and Family and Life Apostolate in Metro Puerto Parishes. And finally, Daughters of Mary help Christians manages the dormitory school in Barangay. Macarascas, north of Puerto Princesa City.

The Church is also active in advocacy programs for preserving the patrimony of Palawan, particularly in the Camago-Malampaya natural gas issue, and environmental issues.

The Indigenous Peoples Apostolate (IPA) now Commission on Social and Special Concerns in the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa Through the Years:

The beginnings of Tribal Filipino Apostolate can be traced back as early as 1985. However, the concrete programs were first implemented in the year 1988 after series of community visitations to indigenous peoples' communities, consultations, conceptualization and finalization of project proposals.

The first program implemented by the apostolate was a three-year Literacy and Numeracy Program for selected indigenous peoples communities in the year 1988. This is in view of the fact that there is no meaningful and expedient intervention for the IPs than education. As Rev. Fr. Armando R. Limsa, the pioneering Executive Director of Tribal Filipino Apostolate quoted: "illiteracy is a human killer" it dehumanizes human person".

From then onwards, the apostolate had gradually gained its ground in the Church apostolate, so that in the year 1995, through an Integrated Pastoral Planning Workshop, other social apostolates were integrated with Tribal Filipino Apostolate. During this time also that the name Indigenous Peoples Apostolate was introduced as replacement to Tribal Filipino Apostolate in consonance with the declaration of the United Nation on its preference to use indigenous peoples rather than Tribal Filipino to discourage the marginalization that the term Tribal Filipino implies.

The result of the Integrated Pastoral Program Planning was an integration of the Indigenous Peoples Apostolate and the Vicarial Social Action Center into a Commission now known as the Commission on Social and Special Concerns.

With the Literacy and Numeracy Program that was implemented in 1998 up to the present, the apostolate has undeniably printed an indelible contribution to the social apostolate of the Catholic Church in Palawan.

From 1988 up to the present, the apostolate has engaged in community based programs on community based health program, ecology and sustainable agriculture/livelihood, scholarship program for IPs employing community organizing and capability building as the key strategy to empower them. With the enactment of R.A. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), the apostolate intensify the advocacy on IPs rights not only based on issues confronting them but also in the implementation of projects that would facilitate the survey and delineation of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of IP communities, which is the very soul of IPRA.

The Commission became an active agent also in other social apostolates through the Vicarial Social Action Center, particularly giving focus to other marginalized sectors of the community, the non-indigenous peoples groups. The apostolate encompasses different social issues, but particularly focusing on the preservation of the integrity of creation, promotion of justice and peace, improving the socio-economic condition of the people which are integrated into one of the core missions of the Local Church - building Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC).

Working for the cause of the marginalized sectors in the context of Catholic Evangelization, TFA, IPA, now known as CSSC has practically gone a long way. One worth mentioning achievement of the organization is the organization and strengthening of the federation of indigenous peoples in the province of Palawan, which has now more or less 70 indigenous people organization (IPO) member province wide. Today, the said federation which is popularly known as Nagkakaisang mga Tribu ng Palawan (NATRIPAL) or United Tribes in Palawan, is a recognized provincial federation with its own office, staff, programs and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), working hand in hand with CSSC in reaching the communities of IPs in far flung areas of the province.

The journey of Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa's apostolate is a total partnership not only within the Church but among other agencies both government and non-government, on the local, national and international spectrum.

The particular Church as Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa

His Holiness Pope John Paul II officially announced on May 13, 2002 the division of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan into two Vicariates. The Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay was canonically erected covering the sixteen (16) parishes of Northern Palawan with Most Rev. Edgardo S. Juanich, D.D. as their shepherd. The remaining territory was subsequently named Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, under the jurisdiction of Most Rev. Pedro D. Arigo, D.D.

Most Rev. Edgardo S. Juanich was appointed Titular Bishop of Usuaga and Vicar Apostolic of Taytay. His Episcopal Ordination was held in the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Puerto Princesa City on July 11, 2002 officiated by Most Rev. Antonio Franco, Apostolic Nuncio. Co-ordaining Prelate were Bishop Francisco C. San Diego and Bishop Pedro D. Arigo. He was installed the next day as the first Vicar Apostolic of Taytay, in Taytay, Palawan, his home town. Bishop Juanich is a dream come to reality that "Episcopacy also runs in the blood of Palaweños".

The Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, having the same seat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Palawan, continues the legacy of the Particular Church of Palawan. It covers the city of Puerto Princesa and the mainland municipalities of Southern Palawan; Aborlan, Narra, Quezon, Rizal, Española, Brooke's Point, Bataraza and the island - municipalities of Balabac and Cagayancillo.

Certainly there is no shortage of pastoral difficulties or spiritual or physical exhaustion caused by overwork or a lack of that balance which recommends healthy periods of physical rest and spiritual renewal. Yet, despite of these realities, majority of our priests face the difficulties of the present positively, supported by the solicitude of the Bishop joyfully living their generous pastoral commitment and their priestly identity to the full.

As we move towards the growth of the Church of Palawan, we are faced with many challenges. Yet we face this with trust and faith that God in His providence will sustain his Church, that God in his wisdom will touch the hearts of the people to be part of the missionary work entrusted to everyone.

The local Church of Palawan will always be in gratitude to all who has been part of this missionary task. We are encouraged by the hope and light of Christ to its final destiny and of great consolation that the Mother of our Redeemer, the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of our Vicariate is always close to us guiding her sons and daughters in the way to Christ "Ad Iesum per Mariam."

Resurrection hope for oppressed: Cardinal Tagle

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