The Beginnings of the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate

The influx of Chinese traders, wave after wave, from Mainland China to the Philippines was a remarkable phenomenon before and during the colonization of the country by the Spaniards. This people with a distinct culture, language, worldviews, and practices call for a separate missionary concern. The evangelization among the Chinese, and later among the Filipino-Chinese as well, was a result of the initiative of the first Bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar OP in 1587. The bishop assigned this project to his fellow Dominican missionaries who began their early apostolate through a hospital and a chapel.

Bishop Domingo de Salazar was appointed as the first bishop of Manila that was established on February 6, 1579 as a suffragan diocese of Mexico by order of Pope Gregory XIII. Bishop Domingo’s appointment was made known by virtue of the Apostolic Constitution “Illius Fulti Praesido.”

At the outset of the 20th century, the evangelization towards the Chinese and the Filipino-Chinese suffered a decline following the departure of the friars from the parishes. It was the time when the Philippines was ceded to the Americans and the Philippines experienced new forms of Christianity other than Catholicism and a new system of government and education. There was a pressing need to form an indigenous clergy to respond to the specific spiritual needs of cultures and subcultures in the Philippines.

In 1949, the civil war and political changes in China prompted the seminary fathers and the seminarians of St. Joseph Regional Seminary to leave for Manila where they continued their priestly formation. After the seminarians’ priestly ordination, the creation of mission centers, parishes and schools was their top priority to foster more missionary work among the Chinese in the whole archipelago.In the mid-eighties there were around 16 parishes/mission centers and 17 Catholic Filipino-Chinese schools around the country.

The enhancement of the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate is a response to the emerging self-consciousness and self-understanding of cultural communities in the Philippines. A greater move towards discovering and affirming one’s cultural uniqueness is strengthening the community identity manifested through existing cultural traditions. Through the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate, the local church has the opportunity of forming this merchant community into a herald of the Gospel. This awakening is a reality in the Philippines that the local church has to promote and enhance. The Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conferences mentions that among local cultures in Asia there is this new awakening, which needs to be guided. “With the era of colonialism now a moment of the past, we witness throughout Asia today the emergence within each of our nations, both old and new, of a new consciousness and a new self-understanding. This new consciousness seeks to discover and affirm an identity in continuity with the heritage of its own past, but also resolutely turned toward the future; it is joined to the firm will to take up the life and destiny of the nation more fully in its own hands.”

The thrust of evangelization towards the Filipino-Chinese in the Philippines needs an urgent missionary clergy. The clergy play an important role in the task of evangelization. Thus, the formation of those who are entrusted to bring the Gospel to them needs aggiornamento and proper orientation. The Filipino-Chinese community has traditions and culture of its own and the formation of priests and religious intended for this specific apostolate has to be recognized and enhanced. Filipino-Chinese traditions and culture have to be purified and renewed in the light of the Gospel to elicit new responses to the new pressing needs in the Christian community.

The establishment of the Lorenzo Mission Institute as a formation house of the clergy for this specific missionary task is an advancement. The Lorenzo Mission Institute (LMI) intends to form priests with authentic missionary formation and orientation towards the Filipino-Chinese as well as the Chinese beyond the Philippine shores. It is a response to the challenge of forming a clergy that is deeply rooted within the Filipino-Chinese culture and adapted to this mentality.

The response to the call for the separate Filipino-Chinese Apostolate is further inspired by the words of John Paul II to the Chinese during his visit to Manila in 1981. The Holy Father said that “if you live inspired by the Christian faith and strengthened by the specifically moral traditions, you will in a profound way be truly Christian, and truly Chinese, and contribute to the richness of the whole Church.”

The Emergence of the Lorenzo Mission Institute

His Eminence Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, D.D., Archbishop of Manila, Philippines convoked to a meeting the China Concerned Group on February 4, 1987. The group was composed of His Excellency Most Rev. Teodoro Buhain, D.D., National Coordinator for the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate, and the many priests-both diocesan and religious, Chinese and of other nationalities-engaged in the said Apostolate. It was during this meeting that Cardinal Sin, our beloved Founder, announced his inspired decision to establish a seminary for the Filipino-Chinese Apostolate and the China mission.

His Holiness Pope John Paul II canonized San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila on October 18 that same year. Since San Lorenzo Ruiz was the first canonized Saint of the Philippines, and since he himself was a Filipino–Chinese, the new seminary was subsequently called Lorenzo Mission Institute (LMI)

Rev. Fr., later Rev. Msgr., John Su was appointed Founding Rector of the new seminary. With Cardinal Sin and many others, he worked generously, faithfully and gladly to lay down a strong foundation for the new institute of priestly and missionary formation. When the Lorenzo Mission Institute (LMI) started with five theology seminarians on June 1987, His Eminence Agostino Casaroli, Vatican’s Secretary of State, telegrammed a message in the name of the Pope who “sends warm greetings and prays… and… cordially imparts his apostolic blessing.”

On August 25, 1988 the China Concerned Group had another important meeting. That day, His Excellency Most Rev. Oscar Cruz, Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines presented to the group the draft “Directory” for the envisioned Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society (LRMS) of the Lorenzo Mission Institute’s (LMI) alumni. Archbishop Cruz has prepared the draft upon the instance of our Founder, Cardinal Sin. Through this draft “Directory” and the envisioned Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society (LRMS), Cardinal Sin expressed his gratitude and assurance to the Chinese priests in the Philippines that what they had started in the Apostolate would be continued. Everybody present expressed support to the content and spirit of the “Directory.”

In a document entitled “Clarifying Note on Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society and Institute,” dated April 19, 1994, Cardinal Sin underlined, “The Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society was established in Manila in 1989 as an Archdiocesan Mission Society for the evangelization of the Chinese community here and abroad.”

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (January 20-February 17, 1991) underscored the reality, necessity, importance and urgency of the Apostolate and the Mission: “And here in our land is a vast field of mission related to our Filipino-Chinese apostolate… But we must look beyond our shores and take note of missionary opportunities opened by the contacts that our Filipino-Chinese brothers and sisters have with East Asian Chinese Communities, including the People’s Republic of China…” (PCP II 109)

The Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society

In 1996, in preparation for the 10th anniversary of the Lorenzo Mission Institute, its priest alumni and theology students met and prayed, discussed and approved a document for the Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society (LRMS) that included Vision and Mission Statements, sections on Spiritual Life, Community Life, Membership, Formation, Finance, and Government. Several months later, in a Decree, dated January 4, 1997, Cardinal Sin wrote, “In virtue of my authority as Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Manila, I hereby issued this decree approving once again the Mission Society and the 1996 version of the Constitutions.”

On September 28, 1997, feast of our patron, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, and 10th anniversary of the Lorenzo Mission Institute, the seven ordained priests alumni made their Perpetual Commitment as members of the Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society.

After years of being together as brothers in the field-learning and serving, journeying and praying-fourteen priest members and four seminarian members of the Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society came together for four days (May 5-8, 2003) to study and to pray, discuss and discern the future of the Archdiocesan Mission Society. On the final day, May 8, the draft Constitutions (which incorporate the essential points and the spirits of the 1988 Directory and the 1996 version of the Constitutions) was agreed upon by the body to be presented to our Founder, His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, for approval and promulgation.

In his June 03, 2003 letter of the Father Moderator, His Eminence Jaime L. Cardinal Sin wrote, “Thus, in virtue of my authority as Archbishop of Manila, I hereby order the promulgation and implementation of the 2003 version of the Constitutions of the Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Society. Same to be effective on June 12, 2003.”