Catholic Faith in Nueva Segovia
Rev. Fr. Roque C. Reyes, STD


           Nueva Segovia is the name of the archdiocese now located in the venerable and historic town of Vigan in the province of Ilocos Sur. The town of Vigan takes its native name from bigaa (Alocasia Macrorrhiza), a leafy tuberous plan which thrives in abundance on the banks of the Mestizo river. As a colonial settlement, the town of Vigan was founded by Juan de Salcedo, grandson of Miguel was founded by Juan de Salcedo, grandson of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi who founded the city of Manila. Salcedo went to the Ylocos in Northern Luzon putting up a military settlement in Vigan on 13 June 1572 which, two years later, he named Villa Fernandina, establishing in the Poblacion a spanish residence in honor of Prince Ferdinand, first born son of King Philip ll of Spain. At the age of four, Prince Ferdinand died.

          The city of Nueva Segovia, however, was founded in 1581 by Pablo Carreon three leagues away, from the mouth of Ibanag river (Rio Grande de Cagayan), Nueva Segovia, named after the old city of Segovia in Spain, was the capital and principal port of Cagayan valley. As a diocese, it was canonically erected by Pope Clement Vlll with the bull Super Specula Militantis Ecclesiae on 14 August 1595 with Miguel de Benavides, OP, as its first bishop. Its territorial jurisdiction extended over all the provinces of Northern Luzon. It was placed under the principal patronage of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Together with the dioceses of Cebu and Caceres, it was made suffragan to the new Archdiocese of Manila. Before the end of the Spanish era in the Philippines, only Jaro was added as a new diocese in 1865.

          Because of distance and the need for a site at the center of the diocese, the See of Nueva Segovia was transferred to Vigan at the request of Bp Juan de la Fuente Yepez, sec., during the Pontificate of Benedict XlV, in the reign of King Ferdinand Vl of Spain on 7 September 1758. Then the city of Nueva Segovia was also slowly being washed away by the river and so it was assimilated further inland in nearby Lal-lo. Vigan, on the other hand, was rising as a center of Spanish culture, politics and economy. Furthermore, already the second bishop of Nueva Segovia Diego de Soria, OP as well as the succeeding bishops, preferred to stay in Vigan until it was deemed necessary to transfer the seat of the diocese permanently. The Villa then became Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan in honor of the then current King of Spain.

The parish of St. Paul was founded in the poblacion of Vigan on 30 April 1575 by the Augustinians led by P. Alonso de Alvarado. The Franciscans took over in 1578 and later the secular clergy in 1591 sometimes alternated parish administration with the Augustinians. The visitas were Santa Catalina de baba (Tuley), San Vicente, Caoayan, Bantay, San Ildefonso (Bantaoay), and Sto. Domingo

The beginning of Christianization of the Ilocos was perhaps the most typical example of the Augustinian plan of evangelization. Briefly, it involved six parts: Personal preparation was undertaken by an orientation period given in Spain, training the missionaries to their specific assignments. Once in their pastoral areas, the missionaries were expected to specialize in one or two of the native languages. Wherever possible, the people were persuaded to gather in basic groups which slowly were organized into towns in carefully selected sites, usually by the sea or along the rivers. Immediately aware of the moral influence that the presence of the priest had on the natives, the missionaries established permanent residences where the people lived. At first basic instruction meant the teaching of the Christian doctrine but later on, a broader concept of education developed. Aware of their limited number and without any regard for priority rights they might have claimed, the Augustinians called on the other orders, congregations and the diocesan clergy, so that the work of Christianization could be expanded. This produced local heroes among the secular clergy like P. Jose A. Burgos (1837 – 1872) of Vigan and P. Gregorio L. Aglipay (1860 – 1940) of Batac, Ilocos Norte.

          There were also three factors which determined certain important shifts in the process of expansion of Christianization in Ilocos: First, the appointment in 1595 of a Dominican as the first bishop of Nueva Segovia, which included Ilocos Sur; second, the expropriation of several Ilocano parishes from the Augustinians by Gov. Simon de Anda y Salazar and Bp. Miguel Garcia de San Esteban, OP, in 1771; and third, the end of the Augustinian apostolate in Ilocos, due to the Revolution in 1898.

          After more than 400 years of evangelization, there have been 34 canonically appointed bishops in Nueva Segovia, 27 of them were Spaniards, 3 Americans, and 4 Filipinos. Of these prelates were 14 OP, 11 diocesan clergy, 5 OSA, 2 OAR, 1 CSC, ! OMI. In the list of bishops two have been raised to the rank of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. Nueva Segovia was canonically elevated into an archdiocese on 29 June 1951 by Pope Pius Xll with the bull Quo in Philippina Republica. From the original Nueva Segovia diocese, 3 archdioceses, 11 dioceses, 2 prelatures nullius, and 3 apostolic vicariates have been created.

          The present territorial jurisdiction of Nueva Segovia is the civil province of Ilocos Sur. It has 38 canonically established parishes, 21 of which were established before the 1900’s. There are two visitas which are municipalities and six parishes which are served mainly by the diocesan clergy with the help of the CICM in the interior parts of the archdiocese. The archdiocese is divided into six vicariates. The archdiocesan schools are operated by the diocesan clergy with the help of MCST, OSS, RSC sisters, and lay leaders. There are also two catholic colleges which are managed by the SVD fathers and the SPC sisters. The social apostolate of the archdiocese is managed by Caritas Nueva Segovia. The media apostolate is served by Radio DZNS and the news weekly paper Timek Ti Amianan. The archdiocesan commissions office coordinates the toher apostolates on the laity, the family, the youth, the liturgy, vocations, tribal Filipinos, the bible, catechesis, and the cultural  heritage of the church. The current pastoral thrust of evangelization work in the Archdiocese is the formation of SISAs or Simbaan Sangakarrubaan, establishing barangay based catechesis for children, youth, adult individuals and families.

          The first Nueva Segovia Pastoral Assembly (NSPA 1) convoked on 11-17 April 1993 by Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, DD, was truly a Pentecostal event where the Catholic Church in Ilocos Sur experienced the renewing love of God’s Holy Spirit. The decrees speak of transforming the Church and Society through a renewed announcing of the Lord Jesus and His Gospel. Authentic discipleship is the key aspiration of the assembly. The Church that is envisioned is a Church of rich and poor but where everyone is moved by the preferential love of Jesus for the poor. The political, economic and cultural values of the people need to be refashioned according to what Jesus did and taught, lived and died for, according to His Father’s Will and the Kingdom of God. Out of this will come a new way of being Church in  Nueva Segovia.

          The present suffragan dioceses of Nueva Segovia are four. Montańosa was created as an apostolic prefecture on 15 July 1932 with Octavio Vandewalle, CICM, as prelate; and elevated to an apostolic vicariate on 10 June 1948 with William Brasseur, CICM, as first bishop. On 6 July 1992, Montańosa was divided into the apostolic vicariates of Baguio with Most Rev. Ernesto Salgado, as first bishop. The present bishop is Most Rev. Carlito Cenzon, CICM; Bontoc – Lagawe with Brigido Galasgas as first bishop. The present bishop is Most Rev. Rodolfo Beltran.  And Tabuk which was made suffragan of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao with Most Rev. Carlito Cenzon, CICM, as first bishop. The present bishop is Most Rev. Prudencio Padilla Andaya, Jr., CICM. Bangued was created as a prelature nullius on 12 June 1955 with Odilo Etspueler, SVD, as first bishop and as a diocese on 15 November 1982. The present bishop is Most Rev. Leopoldo Jaucian. Laoag was created as a diocese on 5 June 1961 with Most Rev. Antonio L. Mabutas as first bishop. The present bishop is Most Rev. Sergio Utleg, CICM.

          The history of the Catholic faith and culture in Northern Luzon is also closely entwined with the history of its first seminary- the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Vigan, Ilocos Sur founded in 1822 by Bp. Francisco Alban, OP. This seminary has since then grown into a mighty tree of seminaries responsible in the formation of several bishops and numerous priests serving in the region. Both the major (since 1987) and the minor (since 1957) seminaries are now fully staffed by the diocesan clergy. It was served by OP, CM, OSA, OAR, SJ, and SVD Fathers.
It is worth mentioning here that Vigan was saved from the ravages of destruction during World War ll mainly because of the efforts of Fr. Joseph Klekamp, SVD. It is now the only town in the country which has preserved most of its colonial houses (180 documented by the National Historical Institute), public and religious structures. In the meantime, some have been destroyed by unscrupulous renovations or misguided romantic reconstructions, others by fire like the old seminario in 1968. And many are now slowly being eaten up by gradual deterioration caused by natural decay due to the weather, vegetation growth, environmental pollution or simple human neglect and indifference.

          However, for centuries, the Ilocano people have been known to be hardworking and thrifty. And they pride themselves for having produced four presidents since 1946.  One writer in the 17th century wrote of them as the “most advanced as well as the cleanest people with the largest towns.”* “As they lived the early Christian instructions they have received, they experienced a situation of peace and order in their beloved lands. Fear of God as well as love and respect for humankind according to the Christian spirit, have been instilled and have remained imbedded in the people through their Christian faith through the years, however, may  now show signs of erosion. This can be gleaned from the different aspects of the religious life of the people in Nueva Segovia at present. A closer observation of their knowledge of the faith, sacramental life, moral life, prayer life, as well as pastoral life calls for continuous renewal  voiced out by the theme of NSPA 1 “towards a New Life in Christ”. A celebration of about 423 years of Christianity in the region may just offer another opportunity for a necessary reflection to guide one’s course of action. It may be a thing of the past but to ignore the past would be robbing the present of its meaning and depriving the future of its beacon.

          In 1995, Nueva Segovia here in the Ilocos celebrated its fourth centenary as a diocese. Indeed, there is much hope that the Good News of Christ will continue to guide the lives of Ilocanos through the third millennium of Christianity in the world.

* Medina, Juan de, OSA. Historia de los sucessos de la Orden de N. gran P.S. Agustin de estas Islas Filipinas. Biblioteca Historica Filipinas, 1630. Vol. 1V, p. 149.


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