For God and Country: Iglesia Filipina Independiente And Its National Cathedral

August 3, 1902 was a significant event in the annals of Philippine religious history, and of the greater history of the country as a whole. On that day,  a group of nationalists led by labor leader Isabelo de los Reyes sought to proclaim a new church as an answer to the issues of corruption, discrimination, and other abuses being committed by the Roman Catholic Church in the country, especially against Filipinos. It would be a church by Filipinos and for Filipinos, especially at a time when the ideals of the Philippine Revolution have taken a hold of the country that was struggling to find its own identity, especially in terms of faith which was dominated by Spanish frailocracy.

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This new church would be known as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or the Philippine Independent Church, (PIC)* effectively breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church and the friars the Filipinos have long detested. To lead this new church, the founders turned to one of the leading Filipino priest activists who have long struggled to give Filipino priests more opportunities in Catholic Church. He was Fr. Gregorio Aglipay who eventually accepted the role and becoming the first Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church.

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It may not have reached the same levels of influence in the country as the Catholic Church or other groups that came after like the Iglesia Ni Cristo, but its contribution to Philippine society cannot be understated. In fact, it is the 2nd largest Christian denomination in the country after the Roman Catholic faith.  More so on the socio-political arena, the IFI/PIC has stood out as an institution with a strong progressive stance on various issues in the country. So much so that some of its clergy and lay members were victims themselves of extrajudicial killings. As far as its faith is concerned, the IFI has a more established relation with the Anglican Church but nevertheless shares some of the tenets of faith as that of the Roman Catholic faith. After all, it began as a breakaway movement of the Catholic Church in the country. This would explain why their churches are similar in look inside and out with that of Catholic churches. One such example can be found on the head church itself of the IFI, the Cathedral of the Holy Child, otherwise known as the National Cathedral.

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The church was first conceived in 1960 to serve as the new home of the IFI/PIC after its old cathedral in Tondo was destroyed during Battle of Manila in 1945. It was to be built at the site of the former residence of the missionary bishop of the American Episcopal Church along Taft Avenue in Ermita, a donation by the Episcopal Church itself. Construction would begin 4 years later with Carlos Arguelles, the same architect behind the Philamlife Building, being tapped to design it.

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The National Cathedral, named officially as the Cathedral of the Holy Child, was completed on May 9, 1969. coinciding with the 109th birth anniversary of Gregorio Aglipay. Since then, it has served as the seat of the office of the Obispo Maximo, who holds office in an adjacent building.

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The façade with trapezoid-type upper design has the looks a contemporary-inspired structure of concrete and wood which did not look like the usual church. But the interior still bears the traditional layout of church, with its sanctuary, (where the altar and the bishop’s chair are located) congregation seating, and the baptistry. The windows employ stained glass art like traditional churches have as well.

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The congestion of structures over the years, most notably that of the elevated LRT mass transit Line 1, have somehow dwarfed the IFI National Cathedral. Nevertheless, it still manages to maintain a strong and steady presence much like how the IFI itself has managed to thrive and stand out in its own way as a spiritual force in the country.

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*the IFI is also known as the Aglipayan Church, an erroneous term considering Aglipay did not actually establish it and that the IFI itself does not call itself that.

Acknowledgements as well to the official websites of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the IFI National Cathedral.

This location has been mapped in the database that you can check out in the link above or here.

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