History of the Filipino-Chinese Mission in
Legazpi

Researched and written by Fr. Joseph Salando

Published in Magnificent (Parish Magazine), Vol. 1, No. 2, Series of 2014

Two missionaries from Hopeh and a new bishop in Legazpi

In 1949, China had been effectively put under the yoke of the Communist rule. This radical social, cultural and political change forced hundreds of thousands of Chinese people to flee their homeland. Many missionaries like Fr. Vittorino Mosconi, OFM, who spent his ministry for over 30 years in the province of Hopeh, China, were expelled.

The Communist hostility against Christian religion also providentially paved the way for a young seminarian from Hopeh by the name of Chang Tien Chi (John Chang) to commence a missionary voyage across the South China Sea. On 20 September 1949, John Chang reached Manila and continued his seminary studies under his Jesuit formators at St. Joseph Seminary in Mandaluyong, Rizal.

According to the Chinese Diaspora Catholic Apostolate Report dated 19 June 1968, there were around 30,000 Chinese Catholics in the Philippines in 1953. The Chinese apostolate included 5 Chinese schools, 1 Chinese priest and 3 missionaries.

This new situation demanded a pastoral response. It stirred the shepherd’s heart of Msgr. Flaviano Ariola, the 48- year old bishop of the newly created Diocese of Legazpi.

Since my installation as Bishop of this Diocese of Legaspi, my first concern was to have a priest to take care of the spiritual life of the Chinese Community in my territory, one who has full knowledge of the customs and habits of the Chinese as well as their language, one who can really help them on their spiritual needs.

One can detect a sense of urgency in the tone of the letter he issued in 1953 to the Chinese community in Albay and Catanduanes provinces.

The apostolate in two streets

In 1951, when the Very Rev. Valentine Reamon, the Vicar Delegate of the newly established diocese met Fr. Mosconi, who was then serving as an assistant parish priest in Pilar, Sorsogon, an agreement was immediately forged. The 56-year old Fr. Mosconi was asked to regularly celebrate mass for the Chinese community in Legaspi. Mr. Bienvenido Qua-Che-Ping, a prominent Catholic and merchant, would generously host the mass in a hall he owned. Later, Bishop Ariola entered into a written agreement with Fr. Jose Agundez, OFM, Commisary of the Franciscan Fathers in the Philippines, officially appointing Fr. Mosconi as chaplain of the whole Chinese community in the diocese. Fr. Mosconi transferred residence in Legaspi on 15 June 1953 and rented a house in 58 Rizal Street. There he put up a temporary chapel.

Referring to Fr. Mosconi, Bishop Ariola urged the members of the community to see him for their spiritual needs. “For sometime now, he is working here with you in Legaspi, having his residence at the Chinese Catholic Church in Legaspi City. To him I have given the necessary faculties for the administration of the Sacraments until the time that I can erect canonically the Parish of Legaspi for the Chinese Community, where Fr. Mosconi will be the parish priest.” The first baptism was done on 10 May 1953 while the first marriage was officiated on 13 September, same year. Mr. Joe Lou Jo She, a teacher in a local Chinese high school, supplied the needs of Fr. Mosconi including food from the kitchen of the Chinese high school. The Papal Nuncio then, Msgr. Egidio Vagnozzi, contributed to the needs of the chaplaincy. Fr. Florentin Perez, OFM, parish priest of Daraga, lent him the sacred vessels and other liturgical paraphernalia.

Because the work of evangelization would be more effective if done in unity, Bishop Ariola urged the Chinese community to work with Fr. Mosconi.

Do not let your enemies overpower you. Get up together, my dear Chinese Catholics. Organize yourselves and do not remain careless before the menaces and snares of the enemies of your souls. Make haste. This is the time for action. Rally to the calls of the Catholic Action and let us follow our King Jesus Christ and His Vicar on earth, the Pope.

That same year, Fr. Mosconi organized the Chinese Catholic Association, forerunner of many Chinese Catholic associations which in later years would be founded. In 1955, the Daughter of Mary Association was formed to encourage participation of the Catholic Chinese women.

To further strengthen the faith and unity of the emerging community, Fr. Mosconi started his weekly bulletin containing news and articles on Catholic life and doctrine, written in English and Chinese languages. Thanks to the automatic mimeographing machine bought with the financial support of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The zealous missionary did not take the presence of the YMCA, a Protestant group attracting young men, sitting down. He was wise enough to warn and creative enough to attract young men back to the Catholic fold.

In 1954, 33-year-old Fr. Antonius Wang came to assist and eventually took over the chaplaincy from Fr. Mosconi. In 1956, Fr. Wang established the Holy Trinity Chinese School. Because of the growing needs of the apostolate and considering the precarious health of Fr. Wang, Bishop Ariola asked Fr. Antonio Rabadam, rector of the St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Tabaco, to help run the chaplaincy. He served the Chinese chaplaincy for 9 years, from 1956 to 1965.

Meanwhile, Fr. Stanislao Chu also came to assist Fr. Wang. Later, Fr. Chu moved to Tabaco to take care of the fledging Chinese apostolate in that area. Fr. Chu remained to be the spiritual director of the Legaspi Chinese Catholic Association which counted Bishop Ariola, Hon. Perfecto Quicho, and Atty. Lorenzo Luna as honorary advisers. Mr. Bienvenido Qua Chee Ping was the president elected during the 3rd Annual Election of Officers held on 23 December 1956. He was assisted by the following officers: Mr. Francisco Uy Chinco (1st Vice-President), Mrs. Purita L. Yu (2nd Vice-President), Mr. Chua Yan Chian (Treasurer), Mr. Augustine Gan Jun Hai (Proctor), Mr. Ricardo Siao (Secretary-Chinese), and Mr. Victor L. Reyes (Secretary-English).              

On 28 November 1958, the 298 square-meter residential house along Lapu-Lapu Street was bought at the amount of Php 7,000.00. With Fr. Wang as witness, Bishop Ariola sealed the deal with the lot vendor, Ms. Natividad Lapastora. Mrs. Purita Lim de Vera, the longest reigning (1953- 1983) and first president of the Daughters of St. Jude remembered the apostolic activities they started in Rizal Street and continued in Lapu-Lapu Street.

“Here we have again converted a residential house into a chapel, where we have Catechism classes taught to small children. Chinese and Filipino families came to attend masses and novena here. During the month of May we had our Flores de Mayo event. Our children offered flowers and sang songs to our Blessed Virgin Mother Mary. We always had some encouragements for our little children, love and kind words, and sometimes we gave candies and medals and estampitas too. For the children who could bring their parents to attend Mass during Sundays, we gave them tickets to collect. Their tickets of encouragements were later converted to goodies and some religious articles for their keeps. But most of all we were able to unite families to regain their Catholic Faith and love.”

With the seeds of faith beginning to mature among the Chinese community in the Diocese of Legazpi, Fr. Mosconi received his eternal reward on 1 June 1962. He died in the Francisan convent in Sta. Ana, Manila at the age of 67. His was a life fruitfully and meaningfully spent for Christ, 49 years as a religious, 42 years as a priest and 45 years for the Chinese mission both in China and in the Philippines. Three years after his death, another man from Hopeh would continue the mission he started.

The wind of change from Vatican II to the street of Lapu-Lapu

 

On 6 January 1965, the small church in Lapu-Lapu Street welcomed Fr. John Chang, a 39-year old priest from Nankung, Hopeh, China. Barely 7 years in the priestly ministry yet armed with enthusiasm and an education degree from the University of Sto. Tomas, Fr. Chang was thrust into a divine adventure in Legaspi. His journey would lead him into inaugurating a personal parish for the Filipino-Chinese Catholics under the tutelage of St. Jude Thaddeus. Moreover, his zeal and idealism would give birth to an institution of learning that would sow Christian Faith and preserve the Chinese culture among the many generations of Filipino- Chinese in Albay and neighboring provinces.

Two months after his arrival, Fr. Chang applied for a permit to renovate the chapel. On 30 March 1965, Fr. Chang received a go signal from Legaspi Mayor Luis los Baños to renovate the frontage of the chapel. The Mayor’s Permit, given gratis et amore, was to be the first of so many tangible proofs of God’s providence. Mrs. de Vera recounted:

“We, the Chinese Catholics have joined hands to do our best to make his dream a reality. We have lots of fund raising done. We have benefit shows, movies, Christmas caroling and some donations from our members for support aside from donations we get from outsiders. Then came the big day. Our Chinese Catholic Church was finished. Yes, a dream comes true. On July 31, 1966, our inauguration and blessing was done. One of our members, a lovely couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sino Lay Ho, who are very devoted Catholics, donated to our church our first Saint Jude Thaddeus statue. He is the apostle of the impossible and patron of hopeless cases. We have so many devotees. So that aside from our daily masses, Fr. Chang added special masses and novena prayers for the service of St. Jude devotees. And thus, our church has become also the Saint Jude Catholic Church. Our Chinese Catholic Association has also grown with so many members. So we plan to have our ladies group branch out and be known as the Daughters of St. Jude.”

Fr. Chang’s mentor and ordaining bishop, Msgr. Leonardo Brellinger, SJ, writing on 30 March 1965 from the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Taipei, Taiwan was generous in his affirmation and encouragement.

 

 

The pomp of the solemn blessing

 

 On 31 July 1966, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits under whose guidance Fr. Chang had his seminary formation, the St. Jude Catholic Church was inaugurated. Bishop Ariola himself graced the solemn blessing of the church, a concrete edifice now standing as evidence that the appeal he made in 1953 was answered. The Vicar General for the Chinese in the Philippines, Most Rev. Juan B. Velasco, OP, DD, came all the way from Manila to preside in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Being a Sunday, two masses were scheduled in the morning — 6:30 AM and 8:00 AM.

 

At 12:00 noon, there was the ringing of the church bells and the detonation of the bombs (an equivalent of firecrackers today). Two hours before the arrival of Msgr. Velasco at the airport, the people were asked to assemble at the church and a processional march followed at 4:30 PM from Imperial Court Subdivision back to the church. In attendance was Legaspi Mayor Luis S. los Baños who had the usual honor of cutting the ceremonial ribbon, assisted by Mrs. Purita de Vera and Mrs. Josefa Po Lam.

 

Fr. Lucilo B. Quiambao, STL, served as the Master of Ceremonies during the Pontifical Low Mass and the songs were rendered by the seminarians of St. Gregory the Great Seminary and the Benedictine nuns of St. Agnes Academy. After the mass, Fr. Chang led the community in singing the Hymn of Thanksgiving.

 

An Induction Ceremony followed the rites at 6:30 PM. Msgr. Velasco inducted the officers of the FCCA (Filipino-Chinese Catholic Association), FCCWA (Filipino-Chinese Catholic Women’s Association) and the CCY (Chinese Catholic Youth). Mr. Roy Po Lam hosted a dinner-buffet at their residence in Imperial Court Subdivision. Mr. Romeo Gonzaga was the emcee of the program. The whole community contributed their share to the success of the 1966 event. The Executive Committee was composed of the following: Mr. Francisco Uychinco (Chairman) and Mrs. Purita de Vera (Vice-Chairman), assisted by the members: Mrs. Salud Chua, Mr. Cua Chee Ping, Mr. Jaime Azuran, Ms. Letty Cua, Mr. Romeo Gonzaga, Ms. Rosita G. Ong, Ms. Nenita Rañola, and Mr. Renato Yee. Others helped in various committees, either as head or members: Mr. Ricardo Siao, Mr. Jackson Barra, Mr. Ching Kiac Suan, Mr. Lee E. Pao, Mrs. Felisa Uychinco, Mr. Chua Yam Chiam, Mr. Jose Cua, Mr. Eddie Look, Mr. Tan Kiac Tek, Mr. Jesus Azuran, Ms. Erlinda Dy, Mr. Lao Siu Chu, Mr. Fred de Vera, Mr. Yu See Chian, Mrs. Apolinaria Lee, Mrs. Emerenciana Dy, Mrs. Pacita Cua, Mrs. Filomena Dykia, Mrs. Crispina Quintanilla, Mr. Ernesto de Vera, Mr. Renato Yee, and Mr. Francisco Ang. There were many others who were unnamed yet had given their share of help contributing to the success of the event.

That same evening, awards were given to the St. Jude Catholic Church Construction Committee composed of the following: Mr. Roy Po Lam, Mr. Francisco Uychinco, Mr. Chua Yam Chiam, Mr. Alfredo de Vera, Mr. Roy Serra, Mr. Ricardo Siao, Mr. Jose Cua, Mr. Yu See Chian and Mr. Lao Siu Chu.

In the 19 August 1966 report submitted to the Officium Directoris Nationalis Sinensium Missionariorum Insularum Philippinarum which covered 1 January 1965 to 31 July 1966, Fr. Chang estimated that there were around 5,000 Chinese emigrants in the whole diocese, only a small fraction of whom were practicing Catholics. That period, Fr. Chang baptized 36 infants, 3 adults and 1 “in articulo mortis” (at the point of death situation). The following confraternities and Chinese faith associations had the following data: FCCA with 29 members, FCCWA with 56 members, CCY (senior) with 23 members and CCY (junior) with 68 members. Fr. Chang listed the following as his pastoral activities: organizing Sunday classes, visiting families and hospitals, fund raising and census-taking.

 

Magis for mission: entering another frontier of evangelization

 

               Fr. Chang, despite successfully spearheading these pastoral initiatives within a short period of time cannot simply rest content. True to his Jesuit formation, he had the spirit of magis written in his bones. Magis literally means more. It means putting more love in one’s work. It is doing one’s mission with greater zeal for the greater glory of God. Magis impelled the missionary soul of Fr. Chang to serve the Church with inspiring generosity.

Magis made him dare to dream more. He really wanted to establish a Chinese Catholic school in Legazpi. It was the fire burning in his heart. He singled it out as a pastoral priority in his report of 1966. In fact Bishop Velasco was very much supportive of this plan. In a letter dated 7 August 1965, the bishop updated Fr. Chang of some developments.

Dear Fr. Chang,  

 

I was expecting you any day for the last ten days. Tomorrow I will be leaving for Hongkong and Rome etc. The four lots of 2,247 m2 (sic, sq.m.) for Legaspi Chinese Catholic Apostolate or rather to be used by Chinese Apostolate has already been bought from Mr. Francisco Nicolas.

 

We really paid 20 pesos per square matter (sic, meter) but he does not want others to know; what he said is that the lot cost (sic, costs) 22 pesos per sq. meter.   The lot is duly acquired in the name of Legaspi College as authorized by the Bishop of Legaspi, but for as long as there are Chinese priests to be sent to Legaspi the Legaspi College can not (sic) use the property etc. We have stipulated so in writing.

 

Now I will see you when you can build. You should start planning etc. The property title deeds are still in the bank but it is hoped   that we will be able to get them in two weeks at most. So officially the property is not yet of Legaspi College.   Start asking for contributions for the future elementary school. I have given almost 45,000 pesos already for that project you tell them Chinese (sic).  

 

Blessing you and all our friends there, Sincerely yours in Xto, + Msgr. Velasco

The fourth and last session of the ecumenical council held in Rome concluded on 8 December 1965. The fresh wind of renewal from the Vatican II was the air people breathed during that event in July 1966. Yet it was just the beginning of a flourishing mission to the Filipino-Chinese people in the Diocese of Legazpi. That day of solemn blessing and inauguration of a church was a fulfillment of a dream that beat in the heart of the first bishop of Legazpi.

 That same dream found echoes in the heart of a young Chinese priest who did much more to continue the mission that was handed on to him, both as a promising gift and a fragile task. The Daughters of Saint Jude with Msgr. John Chang “Since my installation as Bishop of this Diocese of Legaspi, my first concern was to have a priest to take care of the spiritual life of the Chinese Community in my territory, one who has full knowledge of the customs and habits of the Chinese as well as their language, one who can really help them on their spiritual needs.” – Bishop Flaviano B. Ariola, DD, 15 August 1953