THE DIOCESE: RETROSPECTION – INTROSPECTION
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By 1696, the following settlements within Dapitan jurisdiction had a church building, and these numbers of Christian residents: Dapitan (411); Iligan (420); Layaun (176); Ylaya (360); Dipolog (210); Dicayo (286); Duhinob (339); Manukan (335); Sian (219); Sindangan (91); Mucas (295); and Quipit (336). All in all at the end of the 17th century numbered 3478 approximately.

Things ahead looked bright for the Jesuit missionaries until the Bourbons ascended to the Spanish crown in the 18th century. Their endearing and questionable loyalty to the Pope and Rome, as well as their international character, made the men of St. Ignatius a threat to the Bourbons and their plans. This resulted to the banishment of the Jesuits from all lands under the domination of the Bourbon monarchs in 1768. They were expelled from the Philippines soon after. The Order of Augustinian Recollects took over their jurisdiction, including the Dapitan mission in 1770.

The Augustinian Recollects arrived in the Philippines in 1606. They came late for the Philippines among the Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans eight years earlier. Thus, the eastern part of Mindanao was taken from the Jesuits and assigned to them. In 1770, the expulsion of the Society of Jesus handed to them the whole island as field for mission work. For the Dapitan mission, Bernardo Teresa became the first superior.

During the administration of the Recollects, the Katipunan parish was established in 1796.  At that time, it was known as Lubungan.  Its first pastor was Vicente Melendo de San Cipriano. Moreover, in 1865, the jurisdiction of Dapitan and the whole Mindanao was transferred from the ecclesial province of Cebu to the newly created diocese of Jaro.

The Royal Decree of 1852 allowed the Society of Jesus back to the Spanish lands. They returned to the Philippines and resumed their old Mindanao mission. In 1870, Juan Calabert took possession of Dapitan. Antonio Obach shepherded Katipunan. But he stayed occasionally at a former Recollect residence in Dipolog, a kind of trading center of communities traveling between Dapitan and Katipunan.

Dipolog was under Katipunan until it was established as a parish in 1896.  Jose Vilaclara became its first parish priest. But three years earlier, the Jesuit Eusebio Barado led the faithful of the place in reconstruction a new church building. His successors continued what he started as well as build public infrastructures like street, drainage system and irrigation. As preachers, builders and educators of children, young men and women, the Jesuits served Dipolog until 1940 when they passed the stewardship to the Filipino diocesan clergy took over in 1946 in the person of Epifanio Baleares.

Most of the Filipino diocesan clergy who received and continued the evangelizing work of the Society of Jesus were Josefinos, so called for having finished their priestly formation at San Jose Seminary. Trained by the Jesuits, they proved to be fitting successors of their mentors. Furthermore, the Diocese of Zamboanga which had jurisdiction over Mindanao since 1910 continued to be administered by the Jesuits who expectedly relied on their products. One of them was Luis del Rosario who, as archbishop of Zamboanga, allowed his auxiliary bishop, Leopoldo Arcaira, to stay and administer the northern part of the archdiocese from 1962-1966.

Then came the papal announcement in 1967 that the Diocese of Dipolog was created out of Zamboanga. It was above all a recognition that the local church in this part of the world had come to age. She could now stand on and walk with her own feet. Aside from  Dapitan, Katipunan and Dipolog, the other parishes which were established before 1967 and became part of the new diocese were: Sindangan (1936), Labason (1941), Rizal (1950), Siocon (1951), Manukan (1952), Polanco (1954), Liloy (1957), Barcelona (1958), and Salug (1960).  Piñan became a parish by the end of 1967.

The new diocese consists of the entire province of Zamboanga del Norte.  Including the two cities of Dipolog and Dapitan, the total land area of the province is 720,594 hectares or 7,205.94 square kilometers.  It covers the western boarder of Mindanao facing the Sulu Sea.  Its climate is mild and moderate. As of 1990, the entire population of the province has grown to 673,771 of which 80.3% belongs to the Catholic faith, 5.1% to Islam, 3.6% to the Protestant churches, 7.2% to other religious denominations and 3.8% without religious affiliation.

From the moment he set his foot on the diocese, Bishop Felix Zafra opened his arms to his fold and invited them to Jesus Christ “that they might have life and have to the full” (“Ut vitam abundantius habeant,” Jn. 10:10). In the process, basic ecclesial structures were set in place.  The number of parishes increased to twenty–eight. The Maryknoll and PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) Fathers came in the 70’s ( he latter taking the place of the Claretians in the South while the Redemptorist did mission work in the area. Aside from the RVM (Religious of the Virgin Mary) Sisters who had worked in Dipolog since 1892, the Holy Spirit Sisters and the Blessed Virgin Missionaries of Carmel began to serve the diocese.  In 1982, the Sacri- Cordian Sisters were organized by Bishop Zafra.  Three years later, he gathered some young men to form them into Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

   

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