Seed scattered and sown. The Church in Nueva Segovia spans through more than 400 years of Christianity. As in other parts of the archipelago, the Christianization of the locale of Nueva Segovia came with colonization. It has been a distinctive journey of a people shaped by varied historical, political, social, cultural and religious factors.
The Diocese of Nueva Segovia was established together with Cebu and Nueva Caceres by Pope Clement VIII on August 14, 1595 by virtue of the Papal Bull, Super Specula Militantis Ecclesia under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Its first bishop was Fray Miguel de Benavides, OP. The ecclesiastical jurisdiction extended to the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Batanes, Mountain Province and five northern towns of Tarlac.
Although Vigan was the oldest town created by the Spaniards in the north, it was not made the seat of the Diocese which was created for Northern Luzon since the preferred locale, Nueva Segovia, a city at the mouth of the Ibanag River in Cagayan, was by then already a flouring Spanish settlement while Vigan was then only a pueblo, a town. Eventually however, the city of Nueva Segovia was gradually effaced by the floods of Rio Grande, and the seat was provisionally transferred to the nearby town of Lal-lo, Cagayan. On September 7, 1758, the seat was permanently transferred to Vigan, retaining the old name, up to the present. The transfer was made at the request of Bishop Juan de la Fuente Yepes during the Pontificate of Benedict XIV. This year, 2008, marks the 250th year since the transfer.
Nueva Segovia was elevated to an archdiocese, separated from Manila on June 29, 1951, by virtue of the Papal Bull of Pope Pius XII, Quo in Philippina Republica. As the other local Churches matured, there was eventual weaning from the archdiocese. Presently, it covers the civil Province of Ilocos Sur, with the Dioceses of Laoag, Bangued and Baguio, and the Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe as suffragans. The Most Reverend Santiago C. Sancho was the first archbishop of the newly elevated metropolitan church. Since Archbishop Sancho, there had been five other Ordinaries of Nueva Segovia – Archbishops Juan C. Sison, Jose T. Sanchez, Orlando B. Quevedo, Edmundo M. Abaya and currently, Ernesto A. Salgado who is 36th bishop and 6th archbishop.
The civil province of Ilocos Sur, the locus of the Archdiocese lies at the northwestern coast of Luzon, bounded on the west by the South China Sea, on the east by the Cordillera mountain ranges, on the north by Province of Ilocos Norte, and the south by the Province of La Union. Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, approximately 408 kilometers north of Manila and 80 kilometers south of Laoag, is the seat of the Archdiocese. The land area of the province is 2,647 square kilometers of sandy, rocky and relatively fertile land. On the western side, there is a continuity of coastal plain where most of the towns and parishes are located. In the eastern side are mountainous portions where travelling and communication has been a challenge. There, roads are poor, few and far between. Eight towns in this eastern portion are sometimes isolated from the lowlands when the rainy season brings in heavy and continuous rainfall, making the mountain roads practically impassable.
The Province of Ilocos Sur is home to 626,912 inhabitants, 513,186 of which are Catholics. The rest of the population is of other Christian denominations and other religions. The people are mostly rural. Cultural and ethnic groups and ancestry include the Kankana-ey, Bag-o, Itneg, Tingguian and the majority Ilokanos. The main dialect is thus, Ilocano. Livelihood include farming, aqua-agriculture, small-time fishing, furniture carpentry and retail business as well as various industries like pottery and ceramics, weaving and bamboo craft among others. Farmlands usually owned in small sizes are hardly tillable for rice outside the rainy season due to lack of irrigation systems. During the dry season, some venture into alternative crops of tobacco, corn, garlic, onions and vegetables.
The archdiocese is subdivided into five vicariates comprised of 40 parishes all of which have resident pastors. Structures of participation and empowerment are in place – Pastoral and Finance Councils in all parishes.
A number of educational centers contribute to Christian Formation of the young. There are two Catholic Colleges and eight Parochial Schools and several others ran by the Religious.
The archdiocese maintains a complex of mass communications media – an AM radio station, DzNS (963 KHz) founded in 1968; a weekly newspaper, Timek ti Amianan founded in 1983; and a printing press, the Imprenta Nueva Segovia founded in 1995.
Nueva Segovia is staffed by the archbishop with 74 priests in the ministries of the archdiocese together with hundreds of religious sisters and lay collaborators. Two seminaries exist within the archdiocese – the Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary, a high school seminary, and the Immaculate Conception School of Theology, the Regional Theology Seminary for Northern Luzon.
Nurturing growth: becoming a truly Local Church. The local Church of Nueva Segovia endeavors to be a relevant servant of the Kingdom in her particular milieu – the Province of Ilocos Sur, and the ecclesial reality of Nueva Segovia.
Family, religion and education are foremost values for the people of Ilocos Sur. These however are being constantly challenged. Close knit family ties are kept, but many members are forced to leave the province and even the country for extended periods to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere. People have remained relatively religious, but the creeping secularization has contributed to the diminishing attendance in Sunday masses, as well as in other key areas of participation in Church life. Many families send their children for education, but many do not continue to college due to meager resources. Among the banes of the province is the imbalanced political culture which contributes to perpetuating poverty and underdevelopment.
These are challenges that Nueva Segovia contends with in becoming Church. The missionaries of old sowed the seeds of the faith. Those who followed them took in the task to water and cultivate them. As a pastoral thrust, the Archdiocese gathers its efforts and resources to build, sustain and nourish Basic Ecclesial Communities locally called Simbaan Sangkakaarrubaan (SISA), literally, Church in the Neighborhood.
A Eucharistic Congress and steps towards an Archdiocesan Pastoral Thrust. It was in 1987, when the Archdiocese, through the leadership of Archbishop Quevedo banking on the pastoral gains of his predecessors, ventured into an Archdiocesan Eucharistic Congress. The participants of this Congress saw the real situation of the Archdiocese and saw a tremendous dichotomy between faith and life. A lack of community, a neglect of the poor, a lack of holistic faith that should have a social dimension, a lack of holistic pastoral care that should have a special concern for the poor in the villages were among the pastoral challenges identified. The pastoral thrust then was defined – the Building of Eucharistic Communities.
The BEC envisioned was custom-fit for the archdiocese. They were to be communities centered in Christ, active in the defense and promotion of the dignity of every human person especially the poor and downtrodden, ready and willing to give of themselves eucharistically to others, struggling with others in the building of a just, peaceful and loving society, and constantly striving to be a sign of the kingdom community that is to come, to be a living memorial of Jesus and of the community that gave thanks to the Father and broke bread with him.
Difficult but necessary steps had to be undertaken – renewal of the clergy, formation of lay leaders, reorientation of programs, experimentation on a modified tithing system, and financial stewardship and accountability in the archdiocesan level.
NSPA I: Towards New Life in Christ. Five years after the Eucharistic Congress, and two years after the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II), the First Nueva Segovia Pastoral Assembly (NSPA I) was convoked. In the Easter week of 1993, 200 delegates gathered at the Immaculate Conception School of Theology to discern, resolve and move “Towards New Life in Christ” (Eph 4, 17-24) seeking to inculturate PCP II in the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia.
NSPA I was an exercise of communion, solidarity and empowerment. The parish councils and lay leaders with the renewal ushered in have had a new-found role in pastoral initiatives. NSPA I was the real beginning of lay participation in decision-making. Some 80% of the interventions at the plenary assemblies were by lay people, and they dominated the workshop discussions. The voting pattern was one of consensus among the clergy, religious and lay people.
A General Framework for a Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese was made. The point of departure was the general socio-economic, political, cultural and religious condition of the archdiocese, a situation that called for conversion and renewal – renewed integral evangelization and renewed discipleship, characterized by integral evangelization towards a mature and active faith, preferential option for the poor, people empowerment and participation, community orientation, and inculturation. NSPA resolutions for renewal included the areas of worship and liturgy, formation and catechesis, social concerns, becoming a community of disciples, institutions, and temporalities. A time line for implementation, the lead implementing agents, and structures for monitoring and evaluation were set. The point of arrival is the vision of NSPA I – the Archdiocese as a Communion of SISAs, a Community of Disciples, a Church of the Poor, a Participatory Church, an Inculturated Church, a Church actively renewing society.
Structures for pursuing the pastoral thrust were painstakingly set up – lay leadership, formation of the clergy, structures of accountability, alignment of parish and commission programs. Contrary structures on the other hand were painfully but gradually being dismantled.
A new breed of lay leaders from the grassroots arose, finding new confidence in their ability to lead their communities in prayer and in decision-making through dialogue and participation.
A modified tithing system put in place and financial systems renewed – were steps made to develop a sense of stewardship on the people, as well as a sharing in the evangelizing work of the Church. The parish finances were put in the hands of lay people. The clergy took a radical step, realizing that “mercenary” and mundane pursuits run contrary to servant-leadership and solidarity with the poor. The priests’ monthly stipends were also standardized. These were crucial moves. Archbishop Quevedo put it well – “In this very important and delicate area of finance, the laity has been empowered and the priests have gained inner freedom to devote time to the pastoral care of parishioners.”
Another difficult but important step was the disengagement from dependence on politicians that NSPA I called for. This was for the Church to be in a better position to be a moral and religious critique. Political education was institutionalized as part of the Social Action Commission – the Program for Responsible Citizenship.
More signs that the ideals had been settling were manifest. The young clergy preferred to be pastors in upland parishes. A desk for the indigenous people, the Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate of Nueva Segovia (IPANS) was institutionalized, fostering conscientization, advocacy and self-reliance for the indigenous peoples to gain greater respect for themselves, and stronger confidence in their own ability to rise out of poverty.
At NSPA I, the Pastoral Vision-mission Statement of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia was articulated as a guiding desideratum for pastoral initiatives in the archdiocese – summing up the desire and resolve for renewal, for a “new way of being Church”. The years after were attempts at implementing the programs that were envisioned. These were coordinated by the various commissions and apostolates.
Put out into the deep once more. In 2003, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Nueva Segovia as an Archdiocese, Archbishop Abaya reiterated the need to “put out into the deep” and to continue to consciously strive for the vision of NSPA I. In 2005, Archbishop Salgado, led the re-launching of the pastoral thrust of the Archdiocese, urging all priests, religious and lay faithful to collaborate in making Nueva Segovia a vibrant Local Church of Communion, by trying new avenues of doing SISA.
Conversion, Renewal, Evangelization and Mission. Now, 2008, the Archdiocese celebrates 50 years since the transfer of the seat from Lal-lo to Vigan. Providentially, this year has been declared by the Holy Father, Benedict XVI as a Pauline Year. The titular of the Cathedral is the Conversion of St. Paul. Adding up to the reasons to celebrate, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of three ministries and the Archdiocese – the Caritas Nueva Segovia, the weekly paper, Timek ti Amianan, and the Integral Youth Ministry. This year also is the 15th after NSPA I.
Along with the Universal Church’s celebrations on the bi-millennia of the birth of St. Paul, Nueva Segovia has charted year-long activities at Conversion, Renewal, Evangelization and Mission. Among these are strengthening of the ministries, base-level formation, pilgrimages to the Cathedral and to the provisional seat of Lal-lo, Pauline catechesis in the schools, circles of discussion and reflection on being Church, and ecumenical endeavors.
After 413 years as a diocese, 250 years since the seat was transferred to Vigan, 57 years as an archdiocese, and 15 years after the Pentecostal NSPA I, the Local Church of Nueva Segovia continues to journey amidst lights and shadows towards becoming a more vivid, transparent and relevant sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God, which is the reason for its very existence.