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From ‘warriors’ to educators and missionaries
by Harley Palangchao

This landlocked province, once home to “fearsome warriors” during the Spanish colonization of the country, is now host to educated and peace loving people.
More than 100 years since the Episcopal and Roman Catholic missionaries set foot in the hinterlands of Mountain Province, especially in the capital town of Bontoc and nearby Sagada, Christianity has brought profound changes in the lives of many Igorots, the dominant race in this province. 

Yes, the people of Montañosa proudly proclaim themselves as Igorots and the alarming perceptions about them are already things of the past, as many villagers here have embraced faith and the values taught to them by the Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries in the early 1900s.

The Episcopalian Church 
On Oct. 11, 2001, thousands of Filipino and foreign Anglicans celebrated the triumphs and legacy of the 100 years of growth of the Episcopal Church in Sagada where the first mission church cum school was established at the turn of the 20th century. 

Two years later, the Episcopal Church’s All Saints Cathedral established in Bontoc also turned 100 years old. 

In 2004, the St. Mary the Virgin Mission in Sagada founded by American missionary Rev. John Armitage Staunton Jr. turned 100 years old.
The centenary of the All Saints Mission Elementary School, also in Bontoc, followed in 2006.

Beyond the 100-year existence of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is the celebration of one of the greatest legacies left by the missionaries. Beginning with the first 17 pupils enrolled at St. Mary’s, the school has produced thousands of graduates who now occupy significant positions in the government and private sector here and overseas.

The CICM centennial
The main thoroughfares of Bontoc, which was once the seat of governance of the old Mountain Province, were jam-packed with young and old Roman Catholic parishioners and other devotees of different congregations under the Bontoc-Lagawe Apostolic Vicariate in December 2007. The crowds gathered to usher in the centennial celebrations of the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM) in the locality.

There was revelry in the main streets of Bontoc towards the Sta. Rita de Casia Parish which was established in 1907.  

The CICM centennial, according to the vicariate’s official publication, Yeastako, was a celebration of faith and culture and it was an event that gathered people who were grateful to God and to the CICM missionaries who evangelized them, and to their ancestors who first embraced the faith then wove it in their culture and handed it down to their descendants.

After the establishments of the Sta. Rita de Casia Parish, the CICM missionaries saw the necessity to expand the mission, prompting them to establish the Bauko Mission Church reason why parishioners celebrated the centenary of Our Lady of Lourdes Church established by the CICM Belgian missionaries in 1908. 

Mission expansion was successful in the interior parts of Mountain Province with the establishment of the Barlig Catholic Mission  (St. Michael the Archangel) in 1931. The Sabangan Catholic Mission (St. Joseph) and Kayan (Tadian) Catholic Mission (Holy Rosary) followed in 1933 and the Natonin Catholic Mission (San Roque) came in 1949. 

After expanding the mission to the nearby pro-vince of Ifugao, the Roman Catholic Church established more missions in this pro-vince like the Paracelis Catholic Mission (St. Gabriel) and Sagada Catholic Mission (St. Joseph the husband of Mary) in 1996, and the Sadanga Catholic Mission (Our Lady of the Assumption) in 1994. 

Legacies of evangelism in Mountain Province 
More than a century since the Christian missionaries came to this landlocked province, the legacies they left will always be remembered by the Igorot ancestors and the current generations here and overseas. 

This, as the Christian missionaries proved to the Igorots that they are also sons of God and are in equal footing with other people of different races.
Records have it that both the Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries have established clinics, health centers, and hospitals; built roads and mini-hydros; and introduced other sources of livelihood to the Igorot forefathers. 

In fact, the buildings, to include the churches built by the Christian missionaries, are among the famous landmarks which the current generations of Igorots in the northern highlands are proud to proclaim as monuments built with the help of their forefathers. 

But of course, the Igorot ancestors left a legacy worth remembering by the early Christian missionaries because the institutions cum landmarks were built with a
community spirit locally known among the Bontoc people as ug-ugfo.

Education and missionary works are also among the great legacies Christian missionaries left for the Igorots. 

Bontoc-based historian Florence Kittong Chaokas, in her book “Bontoc: Yesterday and today,” wrote that the All Saints Mission Elementary School was opened by American missionaries. The school opened five years after eight schools were established between 1901 and 1902 in Bontoc during the early years of American occupation in the northern highlands.

Chaokas further narrated in her book that education has in many ways improved the lives of the people in Montañosa as it changed the lifestyles of many Igorots with many of the educated having migrated and found jobs outside the province.

Proof is that a number of Igorots who are now in their twilight years have better command of the English language than the young generation of this fast-changing and technologically advanced world. 

Christian missionaries were also successful in convincing Igorots to embrace the faith and live the religious life as there are now countless Roman Catholic and Anglican Igorot diocesan priests serving their own people in Mountain Province and its outlying villages. 

One of them, Fr. Marcs Castañeda, liturgy director of the Bontoc-Lagawe Apostolic Vicariate, has been preaching the Word of God even in the remote towns of this province and nearby Ifugao. He also takes time to share with children the gift of music. 

Castañeda, a noted singing-priest, is devoting most of his time making the rounds in the northern highlands to sustain the legacies left by the Christian missionaries. 

In fact, it was through his initiative that the Apostolic Vicariate came out in 2008 with an album of Indigenous Music in the Liturgy dubbed “Ayyeng.”
Castañeda said ayyeng is an indigenous word that expresses the effort to direct the petitions and prayers of an indigenous people to Jesus Christ who is the source of everything through a repertoire of songs for the Eucharistic celebration. 

The common perception that Igorots remain to be pagans has long been corrected. Igorots like any other Filipino are destined to be Christianized as the late Dr. William Henry Scott, an Episcopal missionary-historian who spent most of his time in this province, said that the “discovery” of the Philippines by the Spaniards was not accidental but providential. 

This, as Scott said that God has chosen the Philippine soil in which to plant the seeds of Christianity in Asia and beyond. He said: “It was not in India with its magnificent Taj Mahal; not in Cambodia with its grand Borobodor; not in China with its Great Walls—but it was in the Philippines… that the seeds of the Gospel were planted.”

For his part, Apostolic Papal Nuncio of the Philippines Edward Joseph Adams in his homily on the CICM centenary said that Igorots are missionaries by virtue of their baptism even as he urged every parishioner to continue evangelizing everyone.

Blending faith and culture 
One distinct characteristic among Christian Igorots in Montañosa and its outlying provinces is their resolve to preserve the beautiful culture passed to them by their forefathers, who fought hard in a bid to preserve their identity against several attempts to be colonized and influenced by the Spaniards. 

When the capital town of Bontoc marked its centenary in September 2008, young and old villagers clad in their native garbs paraded along the main thoroughfares to proclaim the greatness of God and to celebrate their rich culture.

Proof that Christian Igorots in Montañosa remain proud of their culture is the conduct of the annual culture-based festivals in time for the founding anniversary of the churches in their respective towns. 

For instance, the now Christianized people of Sabangan town celebrate the Gagayam Festival as they also rejoice in the founding anniversary of the St. Joseph Parish. 

The inception of the culture-bound Lang-ay Festival was also welcomed by noted Church leaders like Bishop-Emeritus Francisco Claver who noted that “As we proceed with the celebrations of the Lang-ay Festival, we treasure to remember the values which our forefathers have handed on to us. That we live in the faith and hand it on to the children.”

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