The Archdiocese of Cebu comprises the whole province of Cebu with an area of 5,088.44 sq km. Cebu is an elongated island 365 miles south of Manila, nestling in the area of the populous Visayas island. The island province is lined by the island of Negros towards the west and southwest and by the open sea called the Visayan sea to the north. The archdiocese of Cebu also includes the satellite islands of Camotes, Mactan and Bantayan.
A rugged mountain range that traverses the island of Cebu from north to south gradually slopes down into the plateaus and narrow coastal plain. The highest peak of this mountain range is about 100 meters above sea level at central Cebu. There are no known volcanoes; but in the mountainous area of central Cebu, where the highest peak is located, can be found steep and deep canyons dissecting the area’s rugged mountains. Cebu is rugged and hilly. On the narrow coastal planes are the 48 towns and 6 cities namely Lapulapu, Mandaue, Danao, Toledo, Talisay and Cebu. The capital is Cebu City.
The faith first came to Cebu when the dauntless Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan embarked on a great voyage of exploration under the flag of Spain, sailed out of Seville on that historic Monday morning of 10 August 1514 with a total of 237 men in 5 ships and arrived in Zubu (i.e., Cebu) on 7 April 1521. On 14 April 1521 Magellan planted a wooden cross, which still exists. On the same day, around 400 natives were baptized, among them Rajah Humabon who was given the name Carlos and his wife who was given the name Juana (an event marking the Spanish era in the Philippines).
The first missionary father was Fr. Pedro Valderama, the chaplain of Magellan’s fleet. But since Magellan was killed on 27 April, the Cebuanos massacred 27 other Spaniards including 2 commanders on 1 May 1531. Fr. Valderama could not continue his missionary work since the survivors hurriedly embarked and continued their voyage to the Moluccas. This is the reason why the glory of being the fist missionaries of the Philippines was given to Fr. Andres de Urdaneta and to his other 4 companions, namely Frs. Martin de Rada, Diego de Herrera , Andres de Aguirre, and Pedro de Gamboa of the Augustinian order who accompanied Legaspi and landed in Cebu on 28 April 1565, the events which mark the Christianization of the Philippines as well as the colonization of Cebu by the Spaniards.
The priests set up camp in Cebu, and thus it was from Cebu that the Christian faith spread to other islands: Panay in 1569, Masbate, Ticao and Burias in 1570, and Manila along with Central Luzon in 1571.
The first center of the faith in the Philippines then was Cebu. Its city, the oldest in the Philippines founded in 1565 by Legaspi and Urdaneta, was the first Spanish settlement, and also the first Catholic mission established in the then Las Islas Filipinas. The city was often referred to as the “City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.” Magellan planted a wooden cross in Cebu, which still stands today.
Ironically, it was Manila that became the archdiocese in August 14, 1595 through his Holiness Pope Clement VIII. Its suffragan dioceses included Cebu, Nueva Segovia and Nueva Caceres. But missionary efforts to spread farther continued to utilize the Diocese of Cebu as their home base. At that time the Diocese of Cebu included the islands of Panay, Samar, Leyte, Calamianes, all of northern Mindanao, and the remote Marianas Islands.
Almost 340 years went by before Cebu became and Archdiocese. It was erected an archdiocese by Pope Pius XI on 20 April 1934, with the most Rev. Gabriel M. Reyes as first archbishop. It had Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Tacloban, and Calbayog as suffragans.
Centers in Cebu were San Nicolas, Carcar, Danao and Bogo. Interestingly enough, the first parish on record was not in the midst or neighborhood of the city. It was in an island way up in the northern tip of Cebu: Bantayan, which became a parish in 1580.
It is also in this island where the Holy Week tradition of processions and re-enactments of the Passion is upbeat up to the present. Big carrozas of antic statues of saints handed down from generation to generation and guarded with devotion by old families in the island line up the streets during the Holy Week procession. This activity attracts devotees and revelers alike into the island. This is the basis of the exemption of the whole island in the prohibition to eat meat on Good Friday. On February 8, 1840, a certain Fr. Doroteo Andrada del Rosario obtained and indult from the Hierarchy of the Church in Spain in accordance with the regulations of Pope Leo XII to allow the islanders to eat meat on days of fasting and abstinence provided that the parishioners compensate for it by doing penance and works of charity.
The condition for the indult was for people to practice penance and works of charity. But whereas many are taking advantage of the exemption, not everyone is excited to fulfill the attached condition. Because of this the practice is heavily criticized by observers.
It was not the Cathedral that received the title of Parish after Bantayan Island, but San Nicolas. It became a parish in 1584, while the Cathedral parish was erected in 1598.
After having served as Archbishop of Cebu since 1932, Archbishop Reyes was moved to Manila and was succeeded in Cebu by Julio Cardinal Rosales immediately after the Second World War. Cardinal Rosales lost no time in rebuilding the ruined facilities, as Cebu City was totally in ruins after World War II. He bought the number of parishes to a total of 115 before he retired in 1982.
Ricardo Cardinal Vidal succeeded Julio Cardinal Rosales. He took over the archdiocese at a time of great upheavals in the Philippine social and moral order, more devastating perhaps than the past global war. His efforts have been symbolized, by the total renovation of the Cebu Cathedral and the recent rehabilitation of its old rectory, which he turned into a museum.
In 2007, the number of priests he had ordained in the Archdiocese rose to 263. Aside from bringing the number of parishes from 115 to 140 in 2006 and turned almost all these parishes into Basic Ecclesial Communities, Cardinal Vidal also built two retirement houses, one for priests and another for bishops. He also donated his retirement money to build structures at a donated beach lot in the Northern part of Cebu so priests have a place to gather and relax.
Foremost is Cardinal Vidal’s promotion of the cause of the beatification of Pedro Calungsod, the teen-aged companion of the Spanish Jesuit Diego San Vitores. This Layman, an overseas Filipino worker who perished in the Marianas in 1672, is seen by Cardinal Vidal as a Cebuano with a Christian courage of great relevance to our times.
To implement the 1992 decrees of the Plenary Council of the Philippines, the Archdiocese of Cebu drew out a pastoral plan consisting of three sections, namely: Situationer and Doctinal Orientation; Integral Evangelization; and the Community of Disciples.
The Situationer is a profile of all parishes under its jurisdiction. It classified Catholics under its care into three groups, namely: the unchurched, those involved, and the exempt such as the sick children and the old ones.
The Doctrinal Orientation is to be a church of the poor. Mission is integral evangelization, while its vision is maturation in faith through Basic Ecclesial Communities. The identified key areas are worship, formation, services, youth, Catholic Education, pastoral administration, mission, ecumenism and social communication. Operational programs are designed for these key areas.
At the head of the Community of Disciples are the Curia and the Councils planning out policy issues. Decisions filter down to the pastoral planning board in consultation with the different commissions on the above-mentioned key areas. From here, implementation moves on to districts, vicariates, parishes and the chapels.
Cebu is considered as the cultural center for southern Philippines. Music has always been a special talent of the Cebuanos. This is borne out by the numerous Cebuanos who have made a name for themselves as musical artists in Philippine stage and screen. It would indeed be rare for a Cebuano family not to have a guitar, an instrument Cebu is especially famous for.
As years passed, Cebu still holds the distinction of being the center for liturgical music in the Visayas and Mindanao. It is also famous for its Sinulog, a dance offering for the holy child, its patron. Introduced in Cebu in the late 60’s by Augustinian priest Fr. Boy Galendez, the Sinulog became world-renowned when the city government entered into the picture in the 80’s by organizing a mardi-gras.
Today, the Sinulog continues to attract pilgrims and tourists alike to the Basilica del Santo Nino located just a few meters away from the Cebu Cathedral. This Basilica, founded in 1565 by Fr. Andres de Urdaneta, is home to the original image of the Sto. Nino which was given as gift by the Spanish conquestadores to Rajah Tupas, the village chieftain who in 1568 had himself baptized to the Catholic faith. Figure 4 shows an aerial photo of the Basilica taken by the researcher on board the ABS-CBN chopper during the Sinulog Festival in 2007.
Originally the Sinulog used to be performed by people fulfilling a vow to the Sto. Nino. Hence, the chant of devotees as they dance the steps of the Sinulog to the rhythm of drumbeats: “Pit Senyor kang Lola kini!” (I call on you O Senyor Sto. Nino on behalf of my grandmother). The devotee continues to do the steps of the Sinulog for as long as his list of petitions is not yet exhausted.
As years went by, however, there had been complaints that the Sinulog has been too commercialized. But how does one measure the over-commercialization of a religious activity such as the Sinulog? Any religious activity becomes over-commercialized when there are more people making money than devotees praying to God. Fr. Galendez seems to believe that the Sinulog is not yet over-commercialized. He would not mind, actually, for as long as the fervor remains intact. Today, despite the alleged commercialization, the Sinulog continues to touch hearts, especially of foreigners who are moved by the faith of the Cebuanos waving their hands in prayer towards the heavens to the accompaniment of the Sto. Nino song “Batobalani sa Gugma” (Magnet of love).
According to census, Cebu has 4,103,574 inhabitants in 2002 with a growth rate of 2.41%. Out of this number of population, 3,696,853 are Catholics. There are 140 parishes serving the needs of the Catholics with Ricardo Cardinal Vidal as Archbishop assisted by two Auxiliary bishops and one resident bishop.
The Archdiocese of Cebu has 310 diocesan priests as of the year 2007. Of these, only 293 are in the Archdiocese since some are abroad for further studies or for Sabbatical leave. There are about 299 religious priests helping in the Archdiocese.
Of the 293 who are in the Archdiocese, only 278 are active as some are already retired or taking special formation programs. Only a total of 220 priests are holding assignments in parishes spread in the 7 districts of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Only 105 are holding positions as parish priests while the rest are assistant parish priests technically called parochial vicars or are members of the team ministries running 13 parishes.