I never got to know the real Jaro not until I toured the Cathedral and examined closely the tombstones that abound its walls, its massive pillars and its tiled floors. In one of them I came upon the tombstone of one named Don Manuel Arguelles identifying him as the “Illustrissimo Capitan del Ciudad de Jaro”. Now that aroused my curiosity for I have thought all the while that the only city that existed in Panay then is Iloilo City, the former Queen City of the South which was chartered in 1936. Little did I know that Jaro was a bustling town in Panay even before the Spaniards came and later on a city which produced illustrious men and women who made their mark in Philippine History, as mentioned by the then Bishop Mariano Cuartero in his letter to the Holy See.
Jaro too became the center of Christian civilization in Panay, influencing not only the whole Island but also the surrounding islands reaching as far as Mindanao. It never even occurred to me that Iloilo was just a suburb of Jaro and not the other way around as it is today. In fact Jaro is considered one of the forerunner of Civilization in the Philippines. It had her own governmental organization from the Alcalde, Juez de Paz, down to the last policia. Jaro was the seat of governmental power and business activity in the entire Iloilo province and it was then the center of Catholicism in Western Visayas if not in the south. With these I invite our readers and parishioners to get in touch with what was then Jaro, not just as a city of great importance but as a Parish, an Archdiocese - the Mother Parish of all the parishes in the Provinces of Iloilo and Guimaras, so that we will appreciate more fully the vocation to which all of us are part and are called to become.
Jaro was formerly known as Salog, a name which comes from the river which winds through the town. It was then a navigable river with its own port, and it is known to conduct commerce as far as Siam (Thailand) and China. When the Spaniards came to Panay they discovered that Salog is a thriving community of Malays and Indonesians with painted bodies, porcelain wares from Siam and China, wearing silk and damask, and adoring themselves with gold earrings , bracelets and beads of carnelian and glass.
When the Spaniards came it fell upon the shoulders of the Augustinians to evangelize the whole of Panay. To them was given the privilege of converting the Salognons Christianity and they indeed worked hard to do so. In 1575, Salog was made into a visita or a parochial charge of Ogtong (Oton) Parish and again in 1584 it was transferred under the care of La Villa de Arevalo Parish. This means that there was no permanent priest assigned to Jaro then, since it had a smaller populace compared to the rest and besides there was not enough priest to minister to the already growing number of catholic natives. So, it was only visited once in a while by priests assigned in Oton and later in Arevalo.
Jaro, a Parish
In 1587 however the Augustinians decided to make Salog an independent parish, with a permanent priest assigned for the care of souls, with its own permanent church and other privileges granted to a parish. It was the fifth parish founded in Iloilo, others being Ogtong (1572), Tigbauan (1575), Janiuay (1578) and Arevalo (1581). The Parish then was dedicated to the Mother of God under the title Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria.
Unknown to many, the center of the parish of Jaro was originally located in Alanga, an area where Lapaz is now located. The settlement was rehabilitated after the Dutch attack of 1614. In 1636, Fr. Bernardo Alisen, the parish priest of Jaro, decided that a transfer had to be effected because the settlement was so typhoon-battered and unsafe from Moro raids. Between 1742-1744, when the transfer was more or less completed, Fr. Juan Aguado drafted the basic town plan and started the construction of a convent and church “of very solid quality”. Fr. Aguado’s infrastructure including the belfry were finished by the succeeding priests.
This 18th century church began by Fr. Aguado, referred not to the present cathedral which was still to be built in the 19th century on a site about a hundred meters away from its original position. This is said to be roughly the spot on which the house of Salud Montinola once stood.
On July 13, 1787, a strong earthquake brought damage to the Church and the bell tower but only after 37 years did the friars begun formal reconstruction. Sometime in the 19th century, these structures were again damaged.
Immediately after the earthquake , Fr. Francisco Agueria the parish priest, readied the plans for the construction of a new church. Then, he set about gathering the necessary building materials like bricks and logs. With the transfer of the parish under secular control in 1865, Bishop Mariano Cuartero, O.P. carried out Fr. Agueria’s plan this time in a grander scale.
Construction of the Cathedral
With the elevation of Jaro into an Diocese in 1865, Bishop Cuartero, the first bishop of Jaro, believed that only an edifice worthy to be called a cathedral had to be constructed. And so the Bishop using the plans of Fr. Agueria have it executed in a grander scale so that instead of the usual limos, the parishioners were asked to bring to mass construction materials like stone, sand and eggs. The Bishop entrusted the construction of the Cathedral and the belfry to Don Manuel Arguelles who began and finished the Cathedral in three years time, sometimes using his own personal funds. Thus he was given the privilege of being buried in the cathedral in front of the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Jaro became a diocese by virtue of the decree of Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865 and was implemented on October 27, 1865. The Parish of Jaro was chosen by the Holy See for the Episcopal residence of the Diocese of Jaro and the Jaro Parish Church was elevated to the dignity of the cathedral under the patronage of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patron of the poor. The first bishop was Mariano Cuartero, followed by Arrue and Ferrero. The they were succeeded by the Americans when Spain lost the islands to America. They were Bishops Rooker, Dougherty, Foley and McCloskey. Then finally they were succeeded by the first Filipino Bishop of Jaro, Jose Ma. Cuenco.
During the episcopacy of Bishop Cuenco, Pius XII elevated the Diocese of Jaro into an Archdiocese in June 29, 1951. From then on Archbishop Cuenco was succeeded by Jaime Sin, Artemio Casas and presently Alberto J. Piamonte.
We have with us no records of the distant pass as to how they pursued the program of evangelization entrusted to each local Church by our Lord Jesus Christ. What we have now are the fruits of the zeal for the gospel which our tireless priests in the past and countless lay men and women have imbibed in us today. A description of what it was then by historian Blair and Robertson will give us in a way a picture of the religiosity of Jaro at the time of the death of Bishop Leandro Arrue in 1897. “The bishopric of Jaro possesses a cathedral church, which is also the parish church of the city of Jaro, and it has a court corresponding to it, and a seminary under the management of the Paulist Fathers. In the diocese there are 144 parishes, 23 mission parishes, 33 active mission, 200 parish priests or missionaries, and 73 native clergy employed in the Parish ministry. . . It is also certain that the Filipinos are sincere catholic. Their religion suits them, and is congenial to their nature . They practice it spontaneously, and profess it openly and publicly, without any objection. Many good people approach the sacraments easily and frequently. They display without any objection, but rather with great pleasure, the pious objects or insignia of any devotion or pious association to which they belong. It may be said that there is no house or family, however poor it be, that does not have a domestic altar or oratory. Finally the tertiary orders, brotherhoods, and pious and devotional association, old and new, have always had a great number of individuals enrolled, and even constant and fervent affiliated members.”
A certain Mr. Peyton, a Protestant bishop during the American occupation spoke thus, “I found a magnificent church in every village. I was present at mass several times, and the churches were always full of natives - even when circumstances were unfavorable, because of the military occupation. There are almost no seats in those churches, while the services last. Never in my life have I observed more evident signs of profound devotion than in those there present. The men were kneeling, or prostrated before the altar; and the women were on their knees, or seated on the floor. No one went out of the church during the service, or talked to others. There is no spirit of sectarianism there. All have been instructed in the creed, in the formal prayers, in the ten commandments, and in the catechism. All have been baptized in infancy. I do not know whether there exists in this country a village so pure, moral, devout as in the Filipino village.”
Empahsis on Organizations
Since the past there has been an emphasis in the establishment of religious organizations which has done a lot of good in its own time in making the spirit of the Gospel alive with fervor in the hearts of Christian men and women. Here we present a glimpse of these religious organizations, their foundation and their apostolate.
The Catholic Women’s League was first organized in the Philippines by then Bishop Michael O’Doherty, Archbishop of Manila in October of 1919 and was very much later transplanted in Jaro where it took root and has grown branches in the Parishes of the Diocese. The CWL “is a challenge to the zeal and courage of Catholic women to serve unselfishly, generously and conscienciously, the needs of the Church and the state.”
The Legion of Mary was founded in the Parish by Fr. Ramon Moreno in 1945 with Radix Sancta, or Holy Root as the first presidium. It has for its mission the promotion of Catholic life through the devout reception of the sacraments.
The Ladies of Charity was founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1617 with St. Louise de Marillac. In the Philippines it came into existence during the pre-World War II days in a very small scale. It was propagated by the sisters of the Daughters of Charity whose School here in Jaro, the Colegio de San Jose was founded in May 1, 1872 and supported by its cleric counterpart, the Vincentians or Paulist Fathers who founded the de Paul College here in Jaro on July 1, 1948. Its mission is to help the most needy in the Parish, providing them the services for the benefit of body and soul.
The Apostleship of Prayer was founded in the Parish of Jaro in July 31, 1905 which has for its mission the promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Knights of Columbus here in Jaro was chartered on October 9 1960, Council 5019 otherwise called the Jose Maria Lopez-Vito Assembly starting with 53 members and now reaching more than 200 active members.
The Daughters of Mary Immaculate formerly known as the daughters of Isabela was organized in our Parish in 1962. Their mission is to unite all Catholic women in a variety of opportunities for apostolic activity and strengthen the catholic faith within the bonds of friendship, and enjoy the authentic dignity of persons in equal affection and harmony of mind.
There are many other religious organizations and movements which sprouted in our Parish since its foundation in 1587, from the beatas which through their silent but persistent endeavor has promoted the Christian way of life to the present religious movements which abounds in our Parish. Worth mentioning are the various confraternities of the Blessed Virgin and the saints, the youth movements, the group for catholic action in the past and now the family movements spearheaded by the Couples for Christ, Marriage Encounter and the Christian Family Movement all of which are now active in our parish. Also worth mentioning are the Charismatic movements, and the various ministries which in a way help bring about the full flowering of the Christian Life in our Parish.
Recent Developments, A Call to Community
With the advent of PCP II as a way of implementing the spirit of renewal in the Philippine situation called by Vatican two made more than 20 years ago there has been a lot of structuring in the Parish so that it will become more responsive to our situation and the call of the times. One recent development was the first General Assembly which was convened last _______ to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the parish with regards to its work of evengelization and to clarify the Parish Vision and Mission to guide it towards the future. From this assembly an interim Pastoral Council which would help the priest in the implementation of the goals of the parish was established. various projects for the enhancement of Christian life and service was established one of which is our weekly Paper the Candle Light, the Libreria Candelaria which made available to our parishioner reading materials for their spiritual growth and the St. Elizabeth kinder School which made available Christian formation for its poor and very young parishioners.
With the approval of PCP II and its implementation in the Archdiocese of Jaro our parish is one of the first to initiate the mandate for renewal by renewing further the structures of the parish to make it more participative and effective in its tasks. The Parish Pastoral Council was firmly established as a planning council. The Parish Apostolic Council was established as it implementing arm and executive body. And the Parish Finance Council was also established to promote better use of the parish material resources in its apostolate and promote transparency with regards to its finances. In the spirit of openness, trust and participation, capable men and women were placed in these various councils to advise the parish priests in his work and to help him implement whatever was discussed and agreed upon. In a way, little by little, these men and women became more conscious of their roles in the parish, that they are not only here to be served but primarily to be of service to one another according to the charisms granted them by God. In early 1994 the formation and education with regards the documents and decrees of PCP II and the various Second Vatican Council Teachings were in full swing reaching all the barangays and the various religious organizations of our parish.
Various programs were also instituted especially to bring into reality the dream of PCP II that our parish will one day become a Community of Disciples by being Church of the Poor. To be noted is our BEC program which is now in full swing in Barangay M.H. del Pilar and Benedicto.
Today as we celebrate our First Parish Congress let us not forget our roots, were we have started, the ideals that set us aflame with love and our forefathers before us, and the work they have began. Let us bring our past history with us, learning from its mistakes, and proud of its achievements and ever thankful to the God of history who continues to guide us in our destiny as a local church, a community, redeemed, loved and brought together in unity by the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.