The year 1965 was an extraordinary year for all Filipinos, especially for us in the Visayas. It was a year of jubilees. Nineteen hundred and sixty five was the fourth centennial of the “formal evangelization” of the Philippines with the re-discovery of our islands by Miguel Legaspi, Fray Andres Urdaneta and Fray Martin de Rada (the first evangelist of Panay) on February 13, 1565. It also recalled the beginning of our devotion to the Sto. Niño when the statue purportedly given by Magellan to the wife of Humabon, was found in a burned hut in Cebu on April 27, 1565 by the soldiers of Legaspi.
Also on this year of Jubilees, 1965, the Archdiocese of Jaro celebrated it’s centennial as a Diocese. It was established as a Diocese by the decree of Pope Pius IX on May 27, 1865, separating it from the Diocese of Cebu, with Mariano Cuartero as its First Bishop. Also on the year 1965, the then Archbishop of Jaro, Jose Maria Cuenco, the first Filipino Archbishop of our Diocese was celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest.
These jubilees however were unlike any other jubilees. It was not just a joyful “looking back” at what happened, four hundred, one hundred or fifty years ago. More than these they were celebrations hopefully looking forward to the future which included a very painful break with the past. Why? Because on that same year Pope Paul VI closed the Second Vatican Council and promulgated its decrees - decrees which were hoped to send a “breeze of fresh air” and to usher in “a new springtime” in the Church.
Dedication of the Jaro Cathedral
To mark a happy memory and at the same time a new beginning, on May 26, 1965, the Cathedral and its new altar was dedicated. It is a free standing altar made of white marble with the inscription “A Deo in Honorem Sancta Elizabeth,” “To God in honor of St. Elizabeth.” She is patroness of the Archdiocese and the cathedral church. It was the first altar of its kind to be dedicated in the Archdiocese immediately after the reform, when it became permissible and even necessary to offer the sacrifice of the Mass facing the people so that the decree of the council, that “the devout and active participation of the faithful may be easily achieved.”
The dedication coincided with the three day celebration of the centennial - May 25 - 27, 1965. It began in the afternoon of May 25 with a solemn procession of the relics of St. Elizabeth of Hungary from the St. Vincent Ferrer Seminary to the Cathedral grounds, where it was placed for the veneration of the faithful. Then in the morning of the 26th at five in the morning Bishop Juan Nilmar, the parish priest of Jaro began the solemn rite of dedication at the door of the Cathedral.
Dedication means taking possession of a place solely for God and for worship. And so it began with the purification of the cathedral walls and the altar with the bishop blessing it with holy water mixed with salt, ashes and wine, while seven penitential hymns were sung. Then the invocation to the Holy Spirit to come and make his dwelling on the cathedral was sung while the translation of the holy relics of St. Elizabeth of Hungary from the cathedral grounds to the church began. The people following the lead of the bishop entered the cathedral and took possession of it. The bishop then placed the relics on a small niche carved out from altar where it was securely placed. Then the bishop anointed the new altar pouring it with the oil of Holy Chrism, while a brazier, placed on the altar, burned sweet smelling incense. The bishop then anointed the walls of the cathedral marked by 12 brass crosses (which remains to this day) and lighted with candles. Then the altar was adorned, clothed in white, with lighted candles surrounding it and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass facing the people began.
The dedication of the Church is the feast of all the people of God who will be called to gather each Sunday for the celebration of the Eucharist. The altar is anointed with oil since it will come to symbolize Christ, “the anointed,” who remains “the priest, the altar and the lamb” offered as a worthy sacrifice to the Father for the redemption of all. The altar is the rock from which Moses caused water to flow, “and the Rock was Christ” (1Cor 10:14), and the cornerstone of the spiritual edifice which is Christ’s holy people redeemed by his blood. It is the rock from which the sacrifice of all ages, from the time of Abel to Abraham, Moses and the priest of old testament were offered to the one God and Father of all.
In Christian times the relics of the martyrs and the saints were placed on a niche in the altar to make it clear “that the sacrifice of the members has its source in the sacrifice of the Head.” It also provides the connection between the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of our lives which is an essential part of true worship.
Celebrating the Anniversary
Today as we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral Church let us imbibe the symbolic value which the altar and the cathedral walls communicate to us today. We are the Church made of living stones and Christ is the cornerstone - the altar from which flows the living waters of grace. This church building which was dedicated solely for God symbolizes the dedication and consecration to God of every Christian born in this community throughout the ages. She was, is and will be a mother to us all.
As we look back on that new era in the church in 1965, when the old and the new converged, let us thank God for this marvelous gift of grace - the grace of his presence and guidance which he promised us “even till the end of time.” In those confusing times of transition they started it by dedicating anew their church, their altar and themselves to the one Lord.
As I researched this data, I could not help but wonder in awe at the reality presented before me. We are a product of our history - a product of dedicated and selfless men and women who served faithfully from the rigidity of its beginnings to the confusion of the transition which followed Vatican II. Our parish-community which this church building symbolizes is like a river flowing gracefully throughout the ages. It is the same old river but new water flows through it everyday nourishing perpetually the trees planted in its banks despite her weakness.
Faithfulness - this is what we celebrate today in this anniversary, and as we do, may we imitate the dedication of those who brought us from one era to another. God made it all happen and we are deeply thankful.