Today, the fiesta of the “soldado de Cristo”, San Ignacio de Loyola, I return to blogging. Allow me to write a few lines on the importance of 2014 in the life of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines and relating it to the Jesuits’ former glory – the Iglesia de San Ignacio in pre-War Intramuros.
In 1768, after years of tumult in the courts of France, Spain and Portugal as well as in the reducciones in Latin America, the Jesuits were banished from the Philippines. The Society languished and was on the verge of total extinction if not for some very notable figures in history such as St. Joseph Pignatelli and the Empress of Russia, Catherine.
This year, 2014, we mark the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits returned to the Philippines after 90 years. On a Tuesday morning in 1859, 10 Spanish Jesuits from the Aragon Province led by their Superior, Father José Fernández Cuevas arrived in the pier in Manila. They were welcomed by the Augustinian friars in Intramuros and were offered to stay at the Augustinians’ villa. Soon, they began embarking on their mission territories in Mindanao, which was a particularly difficult and challenging mission area.
But the citizens of Manila were not to be deprived of Jesuit presence and influence! In less than 1 month of their arrival, the citizens of la ciudad insigne y siempre leal demanded that the Jesuits establish a school in Manila. Fr. Cuevas refused as that was not their original mandate.
In 10 December of the same year though, the Jesuits began to instruct 23 male pupils of the Escuela Pia. Three months later, they were teaching 170 students. Thus, the start of the Ateneo de Manila.
In the Jesuit enclave in Intramuros (around the Arzobispado and before the Augustinian complex, stood 3 primary edifices: the Casa Mision, the Ateneo Municipal and the Jesuits’ “sueño de oro” or golden dream – the Iglesia de San Ignacio.
It is a triumphant expression of the Ignacio’s mandate “ite inflamate omnia!” – “go and inflame all!” A neo-classical gem, the old San Ignacio was the favorite venue for society weddings because of its relatively small size but uncompromising in its beauty.
Designed by one of the most celebrated architects of their time, Felix Roxas (sometimes spelled Rojas) designed the church in the classical revival trend of the time, with two towers at the front and a flamboyant iron fence at the front. It was also the first church in Intramuros to be lit by “electrica luz” or electric lights.
The retablos and altars were designed by Don Agustin Saez, Director de la Escuela de Bellas Artes y Dibujo. His designs served as guides for respected artists Isabelo Tampingco, his uncle Crispulo Hocson, Manuel Flores and their ateliers in executing the intricate and elaborate wooden furnishings of the church.
The finished church was a toast of late Spanish and pre-war Manila, and a true testament to Philippine art and craftsmanship. It survived the Revolution and even the Fire of 1932 that burned down large portions of the Ateneo, which eventually moved out to a newer, bigger campus in Padre Faura, Ermita, near the Jesuit-owned Manila Observatory.
The San Ignacio Church was the site of 3 important devotions – the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart), the Santa Maria Purisima (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and San Ignacio.
Every first Friday of the month, devotees of the Sagrado Corazon and members of the Apostolado de Oracion, which were under the spiritual care of the Jesuits, heard Mass and said confessions in the church. Every feast of the Sacred Heart, a sumptuous procession takes place around its environs with Tampingco’s beautiful statue of the Sacred Heart placed in the middle of the main retablo.
On the other hand, the feast of San Ignacio takes a militant tone. The Ateneo cadet corps usually has an exhibition during this feast day, and the Marcha de San Ignacio, a Basque hymn, is sung in military cadence by all. In fact, the feast day Mass was also labeled as the “Basque Mass” because many of the Basque families of Manila hear this fiesta Mass in honor of one of the Pais Vasco’s most celebrated sons. The Elizaldes, Aboitizes, Echevarrias, the Luzarragas, Ynchaustis would be in attendance.
Unfortunately, all of these – the practices, devotions, why the very church – have been lost due to the War. First Friday Masses are a mere requirement in the Ateneo Grade School while the feast of the Most Sacred Heart is no longer a happy, solemn school affair. The feast of St. Ignatius is celebrated by the Province of the Jesuits in an anticipated Mass the Sunday preceding before the 31st of July and many of the old Basque families associated with the Ateneo are no longer present.
The hymns that generations of Ateneans loved – the No Mas Amor and the Fundador – are no longer sung or known to the great majority of students and faculty. And of course, the Jesuits – well, they have changed dramatically since Vatican II.
Gone are the days of Jesuits, in soutanas, walking the campus, befriending students and teaching them. Gone are the days when the Jesuits would actually promote pious devotions. For many of these Jesuits, it’s as if their history began after Vatican II, when Pedro Arrupe in that famous 35th General Congregation pronounced those hallowed (now gasgas) statement “to be men for others”.
When the San Ignacio church burned for four days because of the heavy use of good local hardwood, men and women wept for their beloved church.
Today, there are alumni, students, faculty, why, even Jesuits who are probably weeping as they see how much of the old Ateneo and the old Company of Jesus have changed.
When the Jesuits will return to promote with more vigor a love for Mary and the Most Holy Rosary, to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, to the Holy Eucharist, why to the Church to her students, we really don’t know. The Church of the Gesu, which is the university church of the Ateneo stands as a testament to the change in the Ateneo and the Society. Plain and almost Protestant, it does not speak of beauty neither of craftsmanship. Imposing, it looks more like a business conference center than a Philippine Catholic church.
Let us continue to pray for her sons though as they go through these rough times, 200 years since their restoration. Deaths among their ranks – some of them legends in their apostolic fields – have been so frequent. Let us pray for holy Jesuit vocations!