The Evangelization of Pangasinan: the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan

Original text by Msgr. Rafael S. Magno Jr.

Around the middle of 1571, six years after Legazpi’s arrival, the first Spanish expedition to Pangasinan was made by the Maestre de Campo Martin de Goiti, Advancing northwards after conquering Pampanga, he placed many towns along his route under Spanish sovereignty until he reached the Gulf of Lingayen. On May 20 of the following year, another expedition was sent to Pangasinan, this time under the command of no less than Capitan Juan de Salcedo, Legazpi’s valiant grandnephew, who, after surveying its shares, placed almost the entire territory under Spanish rule.

Pangasinan[1], or Caboloan[2], as it was known then embraced a territory which included the northern half of Zambales, the northern half of Tarlac, the northern half of Nueva Ecija, the southern half of Nueva Vizcaya and the greater part of La Union. With this vast territory, one can hardly expect the conquest and pacification of Pangasinan in so short a time. In fact, it was not until the term of acting Governor General Diego de Ronquillo (1583-1584) that a relative pacification of the province was achieved.

Although the pacification of Pangasinan became an accomplished fact only in later years, the work of evangelization in the province had begun much earlier. As early as 1575, we find a handful of Augustinians who were laboriously trying to preach the faith among the early Pangasinenses. The Spaniards marched out slowly according to their schedule of expansion, but the early arrival of these missionaries was occasioned only by a very important event. This was a military expedition in hot pursuit of Lim-Ahonq or Lim Feng.

This notorious Chinese corsair is said to have had the bold illusion of seizing the Philippines and make it its kingdom. So, in early November 1574, he set out from Mariveles with a powerful squadron of 62 battleships and 3,000 men and a great number of women with whom he hoped to found the capital of his imagined kingdom. He attacked Manila twice but every time, he was repelled by the Spanish forces. Failing in his sieges, Limahong left Manila Bay and retreated northward until he and his party reached an island near the mouth of the Agno River (between what is now Salasa and Lingayen) where he established his headquarters and began to rule the province in tyranny. The Spanish authorities knowing the intentions of Limahong organized an expedition to pursue and destroy him. This expedition under the command of Juan de Salcedo, accompanied by his lieutenants Pedro de Chaves and Gabriel de Rivera, set out from Manila with 250 Spaniards and 2,250 Filipinos. Having surprised Limahong’s armada, they captured one of the fortresses which he had built. For four months, Limahong was beleaguered but during this time, he secretly built some boats by which he managed to escape with some of his soldiers, passing through a section of the Agno called Banaoang which flowed through Souguian, and all the way out into the open sea. Since then, Limahong was never heard of again. The Spaniards set up garrison in Lingayen to avert future attacks on Luzon.

Accompanying the forces under Juan Salcedo were some Augustinian missionaries, among them was the famous Martin de Rada and Pedro Holgado. As soon as Limahong was suppressed, these missionaries took the opportunity to spread the Faith in the province. Thus, they became the first wave of apostles who attempted the conversion of Pangasinan. Upon disembarking on Pangasinan soil, they erected a small chapel on the bank of the Toboang creek, not far from the place which the present town of San lsidro (Labrador) now occupies. It was the very first house of Christian worship to be built on the land of a people who had known no religion but paganism with all its idolatry and superstitious beliefs. Very unhappy indeed, due to the resistance that the idolatrous natives offered to an attempt of conversion, the Augustinians were unable to make much headway for the Faith. After establishing the missions of Lingayen, Bagnotan (now Dagupan) and Santa Monica (now Manaoag), they left Pangasinan ¬with heavy hearts and proceeded to the Ilocos provinces.

After the Augustinians, a group of secular priests whose history is not recorded came to convert the Pangasinenses. Some Franciscan friars, notably Fr. Juan Bautista Pisaro and Sebastian de Baeza also attempted to evangelize the province. Their efforts were all futile. Unable to withstand the ferocious Pangasinan like their Augustinians predecessors, they abandoned this “barren and ungrateful land”.

To the Dominicans belong the glory and the honor of converting Pangasinan where they stayed until the early years of the Revolution in 1898. Like the parable in the Gospel, it was they who watered the tiny mustard seed of Faith which their predecessors had sown and watched it grow into a mighty tree. The province indeed is to be counted among the many places which were set on fire by the “torch” which has always characterized the mission of their founder St, Dominic. The first Dominican missionaries who came to Pangasinan were Fathers Bernardo de Santa Catalina (who acted as the superior of the small group), Gregorio Ochoa, Juan de Castro; Pedro de Soto, Marcos de San Antonio and Juan de la Cruz. Arriving in the province in September 1587, they established themselves in Binalatongan where they were first accommodated in a humble but “made of branches and leaves” which the then Spanish encomendero of Binalatongan named Jimenez del Pino had provided them. In this place they lost no time in erecting a small chapel which they placed under the patronage of St. Dominic; Binalatongan then became the center wherefrom the light of Faith rose like a blazing sun over Pangasinan, dispelling the darkness of idolatry and error. As the Dominicans embarked on their noble task of conversion, they did not find the situation any better than what their predecessors did but after three years of initial difficulties, resistance of the natives eventually broke down in the face of constant prayer and the good example set by the friars. The first small group of converts eventually though slowly swelled into a mass conversion of people who rushed to the redeeming waters of Baptism. So thorough was the work of conversion that towns and parishes emerged successively and within a few years; almost the entire population had come to embrace the Faith. By the year 1612, they were already at least 10,000 baptized Christians in Pangasinan.

The wrath of men and the rage of nature did not deter the intrepid Dominicans to resettle and found one town after another; Binalatongan (now San Carlos in 1588; Gabon (now Calasiao) in 1588; Mangaldan in 1600; Manaoag in 1608; Lingayen in 1614; Bayambang in 1619; Binmaley in 1627; San Jacinto in 1643; Malasique in 1677; San Bartalome de Agno in 1688; Asingan in 1698; San Fabian in 1718; Salasa in 1720; Maliong-liong in 1739; Santa Barbara in 1743; Labrador in 1755; Pandayocan (now Villasis) in 1763; Aguilar in 1810; Mangatarem in 1837; Sual in 1837, Binalonan in 1841; Tayug in 1841; San Nicolas in 1849; Urbiztundo in 1855; Urdaneta in 1863; San Manuel in 1878; Pozorrubio in 1881; Alcala in 1881; Santa Maria in 1890 and Alava (now Sison) in 1896. Meanwhile, the western towns of Pangasinan which formed a part of the Zambales mission were administered by the Augustinian Recollects. Already from 1609, we could trace: their missionary activities in Bolinao, Alaminos, Bani; Dasol; Anda, Burgos, and Infanta respectively according to the date of their founding.

The union of Church and State in general and the Patronato Real in particular greatly helped in the propagation of the Faith during the Spanish period. As the process of evangelization went on for almost four centuries, the Christian community in the province continued to grow and to flourish. In 1898, when the Dominicans gave up the work of the church in Pangasinan there were 293,111 souls under the care of 35 priests distri¬buted over 29 towns. After the Revolution, the native clergy took over the care of the vacated parishes: Owing to the scarcity of priests however, many parishes were without resident pastors and in many cases a pastor took care of the spiritual needs of several parishes at the same time. After the independence from Spain a strong spirit of nationalism prevailed which gave rise to criticism; prejudices and false accusations against the friars and the Spanish regime as a whole by Filipinos who were totally ignorant of history. The rank and file of the clergy was not spared by this passion so much so that several of them wanted to be independent even from Rome. This led to the founding of the Philippine Independent Church by a Filipino priest, Gregorio Aglipay, from Ilocos Norte who attracted many followers including some from Pangasinan.

Since the Spanish regime, all the parishes of Pangasinan fell within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Nueva Segovia who had jurisdiction over the whole of northern Luzon. Up to 1776 when the parochial system was adopted in the Philippines, they were not subject to canonical visitation as provided for by the Laws of the Indies. And they were not parishes in the actual sense of the word but vicariates. They were mission parishes ad¬ministered by the Vicars of the Dominican Provincial, On May 19, 1928, the Diocese of Lingayen (comprising the whole civil province of Pangasinan, 11 towns of Tarlac and 10 towns of Nueva Ecija, and 3 towns of Zambales) was separated from the mother diocese. The first bishop of the new diocese was the Most Rev: Cesar Maria Guerrero. He was shortly succeeded by the Most Rev. Mariano Madriaga. Since 1928, the episcopal seat of the new diocese was Lingayen.

But on May 11, 1954, it was moved to Dagupan because of the destruction wrought by World War II. It took only 25 years for Pangasinan to become an Archdiocese. On February 16, 1963, Pope Paul VI reconstituted the diocese of Lingayen into an archdiocese comprising the whole civil province of Pangasinan. The towns from Tarlac and Nueva Ecija were returned to their respective civil provinces to form two independent dioceses each as suffragans of the new Metropolitan See. The Most Rev. Mariano Madriaga was eventually elevated to the rank of Archbishop. In 1970, the diocese of La Union was created and separated from Nueva Segovia becoming another suffragan of the now Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. After governing the diocese for more than 35 years, Msgr. Madriaga was succeeded by the Most Rev. Federico Limon. On January 12, 1985, the western part of Pangasinan was made into the Diocese of Alaminos, and the eastern part, the Diocese of Urdaneta, both dioceses becoming suffragans of Lingayen-Dagupan along with the dioceses of Cabanatuan, San Jose (Nueva Ecija) and San Fernando, La Union. On July 15, 1991, a new Archbishop was appointed in the person of Mpst Reverend Oscar V. Cruz, JCD.

There are 26 parishes in the Archdiocese served by 106 priests; 12 religious brothers and 33 religious sisters. Catholic institutions include 2 seminaries: a college and a minor, 27 Catholic schools, a Lay Formation Center; a social action center, a Caritas center, a Biblical Center, a Family and Life Center, a youth center, and a catechetical center. A printing press is also located conveniently in the college seminary.

Pastoral activities are concentrated on worship; catholic education; youth apostolate, social action and pastoral work with the family A noteworthy innovation is the attention given to worship. The archdiocese is achieving progress in making the liturgy the framework of worship. Devotions remain popular but adequate success has been achieved to integrate these with liturgy. Thus, devotions to saints, who are local favorites, have been weaned off the novena syndrome and integrated with the celebration of the mass.

On social action, Archbishop Oscar V Cruz established the Caritas Dagupan, the primary objective of which is to help the poor of Christ help thernselves through livelihood and health projects, The Archdiocesan Commission on Social Action and Allied Services ini¬tiates programs that encourage entrepreneurship among the rural communities, The Commission grants financial assistance *to rural folks so they can put up small-scale industries, or organize cooperatives to eventually improve their standard of living.

Since Archbishop Cruz assumed office; one of his main preoccupations has been the formulation of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan. After much reflection and deliberation, the Plan was finally finished. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan is based on the integrated advisory observations made by the clergy and the laity who had been constantly consulted by the Archbishop on the matter.

The plan is on a short term basis of three years, after which evaluations are made necessary adjustments adopted, and then the renewed Pastoral Plan is launched for another three years. Subsequently the plan will go through the same evaluation; adoptive and renewal processes.

The plan itself starts with the situation of broken and sinful unbelievers; ignorant and indifferent, notwithstanding the call to be healed, to be whole, to be holy, to be believers. The Vision is the Living Body of Christ through a witnessing; worshipping; serving and evangelizing community. And mission is renewed and intensive evangelization; renewed and intense living of gospel values; development of the spirit, charisms and capabilities of the presbyterium; promotion, encouragement and maximization of the ecclesial participation of the laity.

In line with the above programs have been devised to particularize the mission component of the Plan. In particular these programs involve the, clergy, the laity, and the community apostolates.


[1] Also known then as Feng-chia-shih-lan.

[2] An ancient kingdom called Luyag na Kaboloan existed in Pangasinan before the Spanish conquest that began on the 15th century. Princess Urduja, a legendary woman warrior, is believed to have ruled in Pangasinan around the 14th century. The maritime trade network that once flourished in ancient Southeast Asia connected Pangasinan to other parts of Southeast Asia and China


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