History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish


Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte


The Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte was established in 1635 as a mission station by the early Spanish Missionaries. It is among the oldest outposts of Christianity in Mindanao and is the oldest Parish of the Diocese of Surigao, since the early heralds of faith first established themselves in the province.

Del Carmen, which was established as a municipality in 1920, was not its original name. It was known by several names throughout its long history. At one time, it was known as SIARGAO ( now the geographical name applies to the whole island ). It was also sometime called CACUB; then, CAOLO. The name NUMANCIA was the most recent one given by a Spanish missionary who hailed from Numancia, Spain, a progressive town in the Andalucian Plain. It was changed into Del Carmen after its Patron Saint, Our Lady of Mount Carmel on June 18, 1966 during the incumbency of Mayor Galo C. Comon. Del Carmen has a population of 12,316 ( Census and Statistics,1995), about 90 percent of whom are Catholics.

The Parish has gone through a process of evolution through the years. It was much bigger than what it is today. It used to comprise the whole island of SIARGAO ( now consisting of nine municipalities). BUCAS GRANDE, the island of DINAGAT and even the mainland Surigao. It was here that the Spanish missionaries established their Center even as early as 1621when the first priest, Fr. Bartolome Sanchez de Xara, an Augustinian Recollect, was assigned to minister to the natives of Surigao (The Golden Years, Diocese of Surigao, 1939-1989). Remarkably, there is another source of information (“Adlaw nan Del Carmen 1920-1993”, Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, October 20,1993) which states that the first Recollect priest was Fray Lucas de la Cruz. Indeed further research is needed to reconcile these conflicting data. The Parish of Del Carmen was the seat of the oldest Catholic establishment of the Diocese Eastern Mindanao covering the area from Surigao down to Agusan Province (Adlaw nan Del Carmen, 1920-19930). That the Parish was older than the present Diocese of Surigao was confirmed by several sources.(The Golden Years, 1939-1989; Adlaw nan Del Carmen, October 20,1993; Msgr. Arturo M. Bastes, SVD, Episcopal Vicar, San Lorenzo Pastoral Center- A Felt Need of a Growing Church, Unpublished Report, n.d.). Ironically, we find another interesting account stating that “in 1538 two Portuguese, a Jesuit priest and a Jesuit brother under Captain Francisco de Castro drifted to the East Coast of Mindanao. Those priests, Fathers Ledesma and Martinez preached and baptized many people in Surigao and Butuan… Unfortunately the Jesuit missionaries did not stay long…From 1622 to 1875, the Augustinian Recollects took over until the return of the Jesuits…”(Catholic Directory of the Philippines, 1981: 404). From this account, it can be deduced that the Parish, if erected in 1635, was established during the time of the Augustinian Recollects, who did a marvelous job of evangelizing the people despite the tremendous challenges encountered during the pioneering years of spreading the Catholic Faith.

Around the middle of the eighteen century (circa 1750) the Moslem pirates threatened the Christian population along the coast. It was for this reason that the old mission station in San Fernando (now a barangay of Del Carmen), with its legendary church bell whose tolling reportedly could be heard throughout the entire island but was later on hidden and lost in the swamps, was transferred to Numancia, which was safely protected from invaders by swampy mangroves whose tricky rivers can be crossed only by people acquainted with the place. The colonial and massive convent wall, constructed by the missionaries, still stands today. But, allegedly, there was one successful Moslem attack on Numancia in 1754 which resulted in the burning of the Parish convent with all the parish records. This prompted the missionaries to open up a new center in what is now Surigao City. Fr. Lucas de la Cruz, then the administrator of Siargao, found Surigao peaceful and strategically located. He therefore decided to transfer residence to Surigao, together with the other Recollect Fathers. From that day on religious development gained momentum in the new site. The first Canonical Book of Funerals of the Parish of Surigao began 1756.

The first recorded resident Parish Priest of Del Carmen was Fr. Eustaquio de San Segundo, OAR (1816-1818). The Recollect remained in Del Carmen in the early half of the nineteenth century until the arrival of the Jesuits. The first Jesuit assigned to the Parish was Fr. Pedro Muro, SJ (1856-1861). There was another Jesuit Fr. Antonio Chambo (1883-1886) who made the significant contribution by founding the barangay of Pamosaingan in 1886, and constructing its church and convent. The Jesuits, however, did not stay very long, They served the parish for 40 years.

In 1896, the monks of the order of St. Benedict took over the administration of the Parish with the installation of Fray Romualdo Moral,OSB (1896-1897) as parish priest. The monks served Del Carmen for 13 years although there were years that they were unable to serve continuously in the wake of the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

In 1808, the Dutch Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) of the Dutch Province took over the pastoral responsibility for the vast territory of what are now the two provinces of Surigao and the two provinces of Agusan on account of the departure of the Spanish missionaries triggered by the revolution against the Spanish regime. The first Dutch MSC priest in the Parish of Del Carmen were Fr. A. Joseph Menken and Fr. Van Den Bogaard from 1908 to 1912 (Fr. Venancio J. Portillo,MSC: “75 years in the Philippines” in the Golden Years, 1939-1989). They were followed by the popular Fr. Felix Van De Pol. MSC (1913-1927) who touched the hearts of families by spending time to be with them. One senior parishioner recalled that “ Fr. Felix would waken us children from our sleep, pull up the mosquito net and chide us for missing the mass”. Fr. Van De Pol was followed by the legendary Fr. William Gerats, MSC (1951-1960), who built the present concrete church structure following the disastrous typhoon in 1949, which destroyed the edifice, built by the Spanish missionaries. The MSC priest served the Parish of Del Carmen for 63 years.

In 1973, upon the invitation of the new Bishop, Miguel B. Cinches, SVD, and the Society of Divine Word missionaries came and took over the whole of Siargao Island. Fr. Redempto Maniwang, SVD, was the first SVD priest assigned to the Parish and the rest of Siargao Island until more SVDs arrived to take care the latter. The pioneering SVDs who joined Fr. Maniwang were Fr. Vicente Castro, Fr. Max Abalos, Fr. John Rutgers, Bro. Efren Elogon, Fr. Isagani Tecson, Fr. Eduardo Rocha, Fr. Gil Espuelas, Fr. Salvador Conrado, and many SVD regents who meanwhile were ordained priests.

When the Divine Word missionaries came, the people warmly welcomed them. Immediately upon their arrival, they offered an intensive course on “ Christian Community Life” of three days, which updated the parishioners’ understanding of the church mind after the Second Vatican Council. The renewal of the church called forth by Vatican 11 was provided not only to Del Carmen but also to all parishes, barrios, and sitios of Siargao Island. The immediate results were the identification of strong lay leaders and the start in the building up of the earlier version of the “Small Christian Communities” (Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban). The missionaries organized summer seminars, inviting resource persons (mostly SVD Fratres on summer camp from the Divine Word Seminary of Tagaytay) to help train both the lay and volunteer catechists. The beloved Bishop of Surigao, Miguel Cinches, SVD, was invited several times to attend the graduation of lay liturgical leaders and catechists. It was strategic policy because it helped the lay leaders keep their authority and influence in their respective communities.

It was during the incumbency of Fr. Salvador “Badong” Conrado, SVD (Jan. 1980-Oct.1985) that the large and imposing grotto of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, erected beside the church, was built through the collective effort of the parishioners. It was Fr. Badong who initiated the opening of the twin chapels for the residents of sitios Mataub and Elehan of Barangay Jamoyaon.

In 1986, the Bishop of Surigao, with Del Carmen finally created the Episcopal Vicariate of Siargao, comprising of the whole of Siargao and Bucas Grande, as the seat. Fr. Vicente Uy, SVD (Del Carmen’s Parish Priest from Oct. 1985-April 1990) was installed as the first Episcopal Vicar on Aug.7, 1986. It was also in 1986 that the Parish of Del Carmen hosted and witnessed its first Sacerdotal Ordination ever in the persons of Rev. Fr. Willie “Bibong” Escalante, SVD, now working in Germany, and Fr. Fermin “Jojo” Galolo, SVD, presently assigned at Christ the King Mission Seminary in Quezon City.

In 1987, Msgr. “Vic” Uy, SVD, significantly laid the ground work for the pastoral center of the new Vicariate named after San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, the first Filipino saint. On May 1990, Msgr. Arturo M. Bastes, SVD, succeeded the soft-spoken Msgr. Uy. He initiated many projects including the dedication and blessing of the Pastoral Center in 1991 and the renovation of the Parish church in the hope that, with Del Carmen as the seat, the Siargao Island would become totally autonomous. Msgr. Bastes, in keeping with the church mission to promote people participation in parish activities, also established the Hermana Mayor, a functional role designed mainly to help raise funds for the Project Renovation of the Parish in 1995. On his departure from Del Carmen in July 1994, to take up a new assignment as SVD Provincial Superior, Msgr. Bastes handed over the completion of the Project to the new Parish Priest, Fr. Vicente Cisneros, SVD. With his ‘hands-on’ approach to the Project – never mind dirt, grime and dust – Fr. “Vic” Cisneros saw the completion of the church tiles flooring project and successfully organized the first ever and historic visit to the Parish of the Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency, the late Archbishop Gian Vincenzo Moreni on March 10, 1995. This rare Pastoral Visit happened amidst great celebrations. The third and current SVD Episcopal Vicar, Msgr. Eduardo “Jingjong” R. Rocha, SVD, was installed on Nov. 10,1994. He is Episcopal Vicar for both the Siargao and Dinagat Islands.

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