Being home to the Balanghai, pre-histories often preclude discussion of Butuan's contemporary past. But the Diocese of Butuan has been reaping good harvest in the recent 50 years-in consonance with the name "Butuan" or fruits packed with numerous seeds; as symbolized by the pomegranates that adorn our Diocese's logo; in fulfillment of the Church's mission to make disciples of all nations.
Our Diocese's triumphs in the past half century cannot be fully appreciated without the recognition of the successes in the centuries which preceded it. At its center is the turnover of parishes by religious missionaries to the diocesan clergy. There are claims of Mindanao being the first entry point of Catholicism in the Philippine Islands; Butuan was said to be its earliest outpost when an Easter Mass was celebrated by Fr. Pedro Valderrama in 1521. By order of King Philip II, Butuan was occupied and evangelized in 1565 along with Cebu, Samar, and Leyte. In the centuries to come, with the Philippines under Spain, the mission in Butuan would be handled first by the Jesuits with some diocesan priests, followed by the Augustinians from 1622 to 1875 (253 years), the year the Jesuits came back to the Butuan. The Jesuits would later turn the administration of the parishes over to the Dutch Sacred Heart Missionaries in 1935. What is now known as the Diocese of Butuan used to constitute only a part of the ecclesiastical province of Mindanao. It then became part of the newly established Diocese of Surigao, disparate from the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro, in 1939. Bishop Juan Vrakking, MSC served as the Diocese's bishop.
On March 20, 1967, through the Apostolic Constitution, "Eodem Officio'; the Diocese of Butuan was established, owing largely to the Diocese of Surigao's new bishop and former secretary, Bishop Charles van den Ouwelant, MSC. Its establishment was in keeping with reforms made in the Second Vatican Council where new structures and models were applied to the Church. The procurator of the Collegia Filippino in Rome, Fr. Morelos, was appointed and consecrated as its first bishop on the same year.
These developments-albeit slow-signal great changes and great beginnings for the people of Agusan. From being an area led by missionaries who came from foreign lands, Agusan became a diocese ran by homegrown priests. From merely being a part of bigger divisions of the church, Agusan began to stand on its own. From being a mission-accepting area, the Diocese of Butuan has grown to become a mission-sending one.
The centuries precluding the establishment of the Diocese of Butuan clearly show a Catholic Church that is letting go of its power in order to give more and more to the people at the margins, to the poor, and to the ones who need it the most.
Further Lay Empowerment through the MSPC and the GKK
The Diocese of Butuan has grown. Since its founding 50 years ago, the diocese has established 29 new parishes; a total of 60 parishes under its wing. Its growth can also be seen in the strengthening of the institutions attached to the Church:
The number of Catholic schools in the province has since increased. The parochial school founded by Fr. Saturnine Urios 117 years ago was elevated to university status in 2006, being only one of two diocesan universities in the country. St. Peter's College Seminary, founded in 1959, was turned over to Filipino iocesan priests (from CICM missionaries), producing priests and well-rounded Catholic men from the localities of Agusan and Surigao. The Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM) has continued to teach basic education, recruit and mold nuns under the guidance of the Sacred Heart.
What would partly count for this continuing growth are the initiatives done by the Church from the top-down. Taking from the lessons of Vatican II, Mindanawon bishops came together to establish the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) in 1971. The MSPC hoped to align the work of evangelization towards one that is more sensitive of and responsive to the needs of the community, particularly of the poor, and they regularly met to assess their actions and make the adjustments they saw as necessary.
The end result is the establishment of the BEC's or the Gagmay'ng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK), wherein laypeople take the helm of spreading God's Word to their communities and to their families, the most basic unit of society. Today, there are thousands of GKK, each one with their own histories and objectives-a true manifestation of a Church that is on the ground.
This coffee table book picks up on that idea: a diocese that is journeying towards finding its center in Christ, living in the people. It does not hope to elevate a certain master narrative but instead, wishes to bring to the fore the Butuan laity. Our hope is that our readers see the core of the diocese for what it is-Christ living in his people.
HALF A CENTURY OF FULLNESS