The Last Messenger of God
He was a pioneer in the real sense of the term-innovative, persevering, impelled by a vision, courageous. Moreover, his faith in God and Jesus Christ was pure and unshakable. When he set out on his great mission, he was convinced it was the will of God and that God would therefore make him prevail against all odds.
Felix Ysagun Manalo was right. His success in preaching and leading the Iglesia ni Cristo or Church of Christ has been phenomenal by any standard. The Church, or the INC, as it is commonly known, has grown into a giant religious organizations from its modest beginnings. It covers the entire Philippines, north to south, with new congregations and missions in distant parts of the globe. It is the only church in a third world country which has successfully "invaded" the Protestant west and Catholic Europe.
If for this shining achievement alone, Felix Y. Manalo should be an honored name in the gallery of heroes in the history of world religions. There is enough reason to cast his name in marble and granite through perpetuity.
This year, 1986, is the centennial of the birth of Felix Y. Manalo, who first preached the Church of Christ in 1914 and led the church through decades of ordeal and triumph, uncertainty and hope. Before his death on April 12, 1963 at the age of almost 77, Manalo has succeeded in laying the solid foundations and sturdy underpinnings of the Church on which his successor-son, EGM continued to build with dynamism and firm resolve.
Manalo The Man
Felix Manalo was born on May 10, 1886 in a small nipa house in Calzada, a sito in the barrio of Tipas Taguig, Rizal (now Metro Manila) province, the first child of Mariano Ysagun, a farm worker and fisherman and Bonifaca Manalo, an ordinary but determined housewife. Both parents were devoutly Catholic. Aling Pacia, especially was a known manang or faithful lay member, a devotee of the patron saint, San Antonio.
Happy with the arrival, they had him baptized and christened Felix in a neighboring Catholic chapel. Like most other parents they must have thought their son could be their support in their old age, unaware that Felix was destined for activities less mundane, transcendent.
To ensure that her first-born would be steeped in her own faith, Aling Pacia always took him to service in their chapel. When he was old enough, the boy was enrolled in canton class of Macario Ocampo ("Maestro Cario") in Tipas, a school during the Spanish period in which were taught the rudiments of fundamental human skills and basic Catholic doctrine, prayers and practices, as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. The school was utilized by Spanish friars to regiment Filipino children and transform them into docile and subservient colonials.
Little Fisherman, Shepherd
Felix consequently became devoutly religious, to his mothers delight. Then, while not yet ten tears old, he was initiated into the life of a fisherman and helped his father fish in Laguna Bay, reminiscent of the disciples whom Christ made "fishers of men". He also became a herd boy, though he tended, with cousin Modesto Ysagun, carabaos, not a flock of sheep, a preoccupation also figuratively similar to that of early leaders of Gods chosen people. They trapped field mice whose meant was good for nourishment. Much earlier in history, David of Israel was a shepherd who slew Goliath. Did Manalo have his own Goliath?
The robust, hyperactive Felix, though born poor, early showed sign of fortitude and endurance. Once, he beat many other boys in a contest to determine who could stay longest standing barefooted atop an anthill crawling with maddened red ants. Another time he prevailed in a whiplash fight that lasted for hours and made him ill for a week. To Felix, it was not the pain but the victory that mattered.
In 1896, the year that the Philippine Revolution against Spain broke out, Mariano Ysagun died, leaving the 10 year old Felix and his younger sister, Praxedes Orphaned. Their hardships increased. About three years later, in 1899, his mother married again, this time to a widower, Clemente Mozo. She bore him five children but only two survived: Fausta and Baldomero. Mozo himself died two months before Baldomeros birth. His death forced the twice-widowed Aling Pacia to find work in a small sawali (woven bamboo strips) factory.
In 1898, the year General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from Spain, Felix, then 12, and his cousin Modesto left for long-beckoning Manila. There he learned photography from another cousin, Serapio Ysagun, and apprenticed in a studio owned by an uncle, Manuel Manalo. He also learned other crafts like goldsmithing, Barbering and hat making. In 1900, the cousin stayed in a parish house in Samploc, Manila where the Spanish priest was an uncle, Mariano Borja. A lover of fighting cocks, the priest not only fed and gave them quarters but told them tales of great men which doubtless inspired the two young boys, especially Felix, to weave dreams.
It was in that parish where Felix found a Bible, which he began to read hoping to find passages confirming religious beliefs. Doubts began to rise in his mind; the Bible was silent about his faith. Consequently, he began to reject the old ritualistic Catholic practices. To find the truth, he embarked on a religious odyssey.
When Aguinaldo proclaimed the first Philippines republic, the dominant Filipino religious grouping was the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Philippine Independent Church headed by Fr. Gregorio Aglipay. It was popular and avowedly nationalistic, but held no attraction for Felix. For he believed that it was not really independent of the Catholic Church as claimed by its founder: while opposing some Catholic doctrines, it required its members to follow them. His fancy turned to an esoteric group called Colorum, founded in 1840 by Apolonio ("Hermano Pule") dela Cruz as Cofradia de San Jose. Condemned as heretical and therefore unrecognized by the Spanish government, it nevertheless attracted several adherents because it claimed direct communication with God. Felix gave it a try but quickly left it when he realized the claim was false. He then moved to Parañ¡±µe, Rizal (now Metro Manila) where he opened a mall hatshop with Eusebio Sunga. One night he listened to a debate between a priest and a Protestant minister. He thought the latter had won and again his Catholic faith was badly shaken. Next, he joined the Iglesia Metodista Episcopal, and soon became a pastor in Manila. With his quick mind and profound passion to learn, he became an asset to the Methodists. Later, while engaged I missionary work, he learned that his mother was dying and raced home to Tipas to be by her side. He rejected the last sacrament for her. When she died, the parish priest denied her burial in the Tipas Catholic cemetery, and had to be buried in the Aglipayan cemetery. Not long afterwards, he adopted his mothers surname, Manalo, as an _expression, according to his sister Fausta, of affection and great reverence for his mother. Sometime later, he became a pastor of a Presbyterian Church. Then he discovered another Protestant group, the Christian Missionary alliance, known as the Disciples of Christ in the United States, which baptized its members by immersion. Knowing that this practice most closely adhered to the Bible, he joined the Disciples and became an evangelist. At about this time he met Teresa Sereneo from Paco, Manila, whom he eventually married. They had one child who died in infancy. When he was 25, Manalo joined the Church of the Seventh-Day Adventists and became one of its most outstanding evangelists. After the death of his first wife, he met a petite young girl of 19 from Manila, Honorata de Guzman. On May 10, 1913, on his 27 birthday, they were married. Honorata became his lifetime companion and partner. They had seven children-three girls and four boys.
Rationale for Odyssey
Minister Teofilo C Ramos of the Iglesia ni Cristo explains that the fiery Church Leader drifted from one religion to another because he had "to saturate himself with biblical lore as Gods way of preparing him for his divine mission."
Manalos love affair with the Adventists or Sabanistas, ended after he began to question some of their doctrines, particularly their Saturday (Sabbath) observance. The hierarchy reacted by discrediting him. When in 1913 he resigned as a minister and member, his odyssey ended. But he plunged into deep religious crisis.
Disenchanted with organized religions, Felix Manalo familiarized himself with atheism and agnosticism. But even as he discussed and debated with atheists and agnostics, his anguished soul cried that what he really needed was to be close to God and to spread the Gospel-the problem was how. Some church ministers say Manalo was convinced that eventually a revelation would burst upon his conscience like a sun as it happened to Paul the Apostle on his way to Damascus.
The Calling of Manalo
One day in November, 1913, Felix Manalo gathered all the religious literature he had accumulated and arranged them, with a pile of unused notebooks, sharpened pencils and the Bible, on a table inside a dimly-lit room in Eusebio Sungas house in Pasay. He instructed everyone in the household that he should not be disturbed, then kept himself in seclusion. So intense was his concentration that he became oblivious of time, food and the world outside. He emerged from that seclusion after three days and three nights of intensive study and reflection, his notebooks filled with notes, certain that God had commissioned him to perform a mission.
A Church minister says that Manalos "commission" was in accordance with biblical prophecies pertaining to Gods calling a "messenger from the Far East" (Rev. 7:2-3), who would preach to Gods sons and daughters (Isaiah 43:5-6; 46:11;41:9-11). His task would involve stamping the seal of the living God on the foreheads of Gods servants and bringing the "other sheep" which were not within the Church during the time of Christ into the fold so that "there shall be one flock, one shepherd".
It was a formidable mission. But, as explained by Church ministers, Felix Manalo, like Moses and Paul was prepared for it. True, he had received much of his biblical education from American authorities and institutions, but this was not unique. Moses, an Israelite, was educated and raised in the culture of Egypt in preparation for his mission of leading his fellow Israelites from Egypt back to their homeland. Paul-proud, cruel, patrician- was an inveterate persecutor before he became a messenger of God with members of the Christian Church as his victims. When Christ called Paul, He assigned him to the Gentiles, people who had no covenant with God, in preparation for his mission of leading them from the wrong path to the true faith of Jesus Christ.
When God called men to undertake to undertake missions, they must have experienced God, as Martin Luther did, in such "a life-changing way that it led them to launch movements which became great churches" and changed Christian history in dramatic ways. In the case of Felix Manalo, his calling occurred during his seclusion in Sungas room. According to his wife, Honorata, Manalo intimated to her one night before starting to propagate a new faith that the mission given to him by God was specific: to preach the Iglesia ni Cristo. In pursuing this mission he would also persuade his fellow pastors from other sects to unite and preach the same church.
First Meeting, Baptism
One day in July1914, Felix Manalo and wife, Honorata, left Pasay without a centavo between them and proceeded to Sta. Anna, Manila. He deliberately did not bring any money, said his wife, for he wanted God to perform a miracle in their life. Before reaching their destination- Punta St. Ana-the had to cross the Pasig River by boat. A boatman ferried them across without the two-centavo fare-Manalo promised to pay him later.
In Punta, he asked for his friends Apolinario Ramos and wife, Engracia. They were staying in the workers quarters of the construction firm, Atlantic Gulf & Pacific Company. Manalo then sent someone to pay the boat fare. That night, with the permission of the Ramos couple, he conducted his first religious meeting in their room with only a handful of people listening.
As he continued to hold nightly meetings more came to listen, Drawn not only by the novelty of his biblical teachings but by their eagerness to see the young evangelist who even then was renowned as a brilliant, spell-binding speaker. Indeed, Felix Manalo, then only 27 going on 28, had a commanding personality and exceptional eloquence. Every statement he made was from the Bible.
Not long after that first meeting the first 14 converts to the Iglesia ni Cristo were baptized, by immersion, by Felix Manalo at the Sta. Ana portion of the Pasig River. To ensure privacy, the baptismal area was enclosed with white cloth held up by bamboo poles. Manalo waited in the baptistery for the converts.
Before him, in waist deep water, he urged each of them to raise their hands, state their allegiance to God, Christ and the Bible, and reaffirm their loyalty to their new faith. Then he immersed them one by one in the clear river water "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".
This first batch of converts, according to Church records, was composed of:
Juan de la Cruz
Juana de la Cruz
Emilia de Leon
Felicimo de Leon
Gorgonio Sta. Maria
They became the nucleus of the first congregation or lokal of the Church of Christ. They first held their worship services in the house of Apolinario and Engracia Ramos, then the larger house of Atanacio Morte, where the Banal na Hapunan or Holy Supper was held.
From Manila, Manalo decided to preach the Church in his hometown of Taguig. By this time, early 1914, their first child, Pilar was born. He assigned Federico Inocencio, whom he had trained and ordained as the first Church minister, to administer the Sta. Ana congregation during his absence. Preaching in Tipas, he encountered wave upon wave of harassment and persecution. Many of his own townmates swore at him, stoned his meetings, intimidated and harmed members and their guests. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1914, he was able to baptize a few converts, including one of his most rabid persecutors, Serapio Dionisio.
Registered, Church Reaches Out
To avoid accusations of preaching an unrecognized church, Felix Manalo decided to register the Iglesia ni Cristo with the Philippine government. He asked a lawyer friend, Juan Natividad, to assist him. On July 27, 1914, the Iglesia ni Cristo was officially registered, the date of its registration coinciding with the outbreak of World War I. It was registered as a "corporation sole" with Felix Manalo as Executive Minister. Among the more notable converts at this time were three Protestant ministers:
Justino Casanova Norberto Asuncion Victor Magsalin The first two were ordained as ministers, with Casanova becoming the Churchs first General Treasurer.
From Taguig, Felix Manalo reached out to Paternos, then Pasig, where he established new congregations. He toiled day and night, with hardly any rest and sleep, he suffered from lack of proper nourishment. He personally supervised the lokals, attended to members problems, conducted nightly evangelization in different places and spent long hours preparing Bible lessons for the services. Soon, as a result of too much suffering and sacrifice, he vomited blood, indicating his lungs had been damaged. His once robust, proud body, forced beyond its capacity for endurance, was utterly vitiated. But Manalo, then only 28, did not give up. He prayed fervently to God for help, exercised regularly and increased his food intake. Back on his feet again, he immediately resumed his work by the summer of 1915.
From his home province, Manalo in late 1915, returned to Manila and inaugurated a missionary campaign in populous Tondo. Small meetings evolved into big rallies and public debates between Manalo the accomplished debater and leaders of other religious groups. These debates highlighted the logic and validity of the Churchs teachings and served as an effective propagation tool. Meanwhile, rivals vanquished by Manalo escalated their campaign of hate and persecution against him and the Church.
First Ministry School
As the Church kept growing an expanding, Manalos need for more assistants became pronounced. Consequently, in the house of a member, Leoncio Javier and his wife, in Tondo, which also doubled as a chapel, he organized the first batch of ministerial students:
Sancho de Guzman
Some would become Pillars of the Church; others like Ora, Ponce and Basilio Santiago would, as we shall see, conspire to wreck it.
The lessons Manalo imparted to his students and congregations were uniform and prepared by himself.
The ministers were given outlines. To facilitate reproduction of the outlines, Manalo devised a novel copying method a crude gulaman or gelatin press which Honorata operated. It was a labor-consuming process. In 1916, Marcelo Lemen, a Tondo religious worker employed in a printing house, suggested that the lessons be reproduced in printed form. Manalo agreed and the first printed lessons or texto came out on March 26, 1916.
Having consolidated his modest gains in Rizal and Manila, Manalo next reached out to the region north of Manila. In 1916, when he was about 30 years of age, he fielded three ministers- Justino Casanova, Santiago Lopez and Teodoro Santiago- to Guiguinto, Bulacan. Thirty new members were baptized and a congregation was immediately organized in barrio Tabi. When the membership reached 80, the members, pooling their own efforts, built a small chapel where they conducted services.
In 1917, Manalo visited Nueva Ecija, accompanied by Teodoro Santiago and Januario Ponce. A congregation was later formed in Gapan. The following year, he dispatched missionary forces to Pampanga and footholds were established in the towns of Bacolor, Arayat, Guagua, San Simon and Lubao. That same year a new lokal was organized in Malabon, Rizal, with over 30 new converts, led by Justino Casanova.
On December 25, 1918, ministers of the Christian Mission honored Felix Manalo as an outstanding evangelist. The certificate was signed by Ministers Leslie Wolfe and Higinio Mayor, attested by attorney V. Dimagiba. The affair, held at the Gloria Theater in Tondo, Manila was attended by Church members and several Protestant pastors.
In may 1919, Manalo presided at the first ordination of Church ministers, laying his hands on Justino, Casanova, Teodoro Santiago and Federico Inocencio.
Quells Internal Revolt
In August 1919 Manalo visited all local congregations before departing for the United States to advance his Bible studies. He advised the brethren to keep united and protect one another in his absence. One day in September that year he sailed for the U.S. and stayed at Berkeley, California, burying himself in Bible research and studies, and attending classes in a school of religion. When he returned in 1921, he found the Church rocked by an incipient revolt led by Teofilo Ora and Januario Ponce, Church workers who had been left out in the 1919 ordination.
Assisted by Basilio Santiago, another church worker, Ora and Ponce attacked Manalo for alleged extravagance and immorality. Knowing the existence of the Church itself was in danger, Manalo acted decisively and called an emergency meeting of all ministers in the Central office in Gagalandgin, Tondo, with Justino Casanova presiding. Manalo defended himself by belying the charges and presenting supporting documents. Then in a division of the house, he won decisively.
Defeated, Ora and Company founded their own Church, the Church of God in Jesus Christ, inviting recruits from the Iglesia ni Cristo. Their recruitment efforts were initially effective and for a while the Iglesia was dangerously decimated. Manalo then took to the field to gather the member back to the flock, and once more, peace reigned in the Church. On the other hand, the new church of Ora and Ponce withered away.
Massive Growth and Expansion
oon the Locale congregations, each congregation roughly equivalent to a Catholic parish, grew into Divisions, each Division equivalent to a diocese. Pampanga became the first Division in 1924 with Teodoro Santiago as the first Division Minister or Administrator. Next came Tarlac (1925) under Reymundo Mansilungan; Laguna (1928) with Andres Tucker as first Division Minister; Nueva Ecija (1930) administered by Prudencio Vasquez; Zambales (1931) under Benito Simbillo; Bulacan (1932) under Jacinto Torres; Cavite followed (1932) administered by Feliciano Gonzales. Eventually, other Division were rapidly established; then Pangasinan (1934) under Placido Pascua.
Other provinces in Southern Luzon followed; Batangas (1936) with Eugenio Cortes as first Division Minister; Tayabas (now Quezon), became a division in 1913 under Glicerio Santos Sr.
Manalo then fielded some evangelical workers in Northern Luzon, specifically La Union, though that province became a district only in 1943, with Felimon Sanidad as first Division Minister.
Next, the Churchs missionary forces entered the Visayas. Cebu became a Division in 1937, with Alipio Apolonio as first Division Minister. Bohol, reached in 1938, became a Division in 1955 under Antonio Jerusalem. The Ilocos Norte Division was formed in 1938, administered by Placido Pascua. Manalos home province of Rizal became a Division in 1939, with Telesforo S. Cruz as its first Division Minister. Isabela in the North became a Division in 1947, under Felix Suratos. Mindoro Oriental became a Division in 1940 under Mariano Castro.
From Luzon and the Visayas, the Church reached out to distant Mindanao in 1941 with about 30 families belonging to the Church in Paco, Manila as a vanguard. They first settled in Cotabato like pilgrims and immediately Began evangelization. The campaign was productive but Cotabato did not become a Division then because World War II intervened. In 1946, however, the work resumed, and Manalo made Cotabato a Division under Mariano Suarez.
Years Of War And Liberation
The Japanese occupation of the Philippines (1941-1945) cost the Church many ministers and Church workers who were maimed or killed. Manalo himself was threatened with death by the Japanese. Once, Japanese soldiers disrupted a service in Tayuman, Sta. Cruz, Manila, and tried to stop Manalo from officiating. They failed. Manalo later actively helped the resistance movement serving as an information officer and extending them money, food and clothing. Unable to find direct evidence against his underground activities, the Japanese instead confiscated Manalos properties.
As Japan's iron rule continued, Manalo proceeded with his mission. For more effective coordination, he consolidated all congregations in the Greater Manila Area into one Division under the supervision of Division Minister Benjamin Santiago. Then he sent Cipriano Sandoval to Baguio to start propagation work in the summer capital. Baguio became a Division in 1956 under the administration of Ramon Adalla.
On July 14, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur proclaimed the liberation of the Philippines from Japan. Later, the war ended after the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan upon orders of Harry S. Truman. With the Japanese gone, the Iglesia ni Cristo continued to encounter problems, this time in the hands of the Filipinos, the Peoples Army against Japan known as the Hukbalahap or Huks for short.
Once , on a vacation in Pampanga, Manalo got word that the Huks would ambush him in the town of Lubao. On the way to the service, however, he slipped on a stairway and suffered a fractured leg. The ambush was thus aborted. The Huks were after Manalos head because they believed he was an obstacle in their plan to seize government power since Manalo refused to cooperate with them. During the 1945 presidential election, for instance, Manalo and the Church supported Manuel Roxas while the Huks campaigned for Sergio Osemeñ¡ “r. This led the Huks kidnapping and liquidating Church ministers, workers and members. As a result, several members fled from central Luzon to seek sanctuary in places where there were Church congregations.
In 1948, the Church began to build its first central office and official residence of the Executive Minister at Riverside street in San Juan, Rizal. Meanwhile, the Huks tried again to assassinate Manalo but failed.
The Church of Christ remained united, firm and progressive even during those trying years. It remained intact and firm under Felix Manalos administration. Immediately after the war, in 1945, he resumed his offensive in Northern Luzon. He mad Cagayan a Division in 1947 with Jose Nisperos as first Division Minster and Ilocos Sur (1948) a Division under Felimon Sanidad.
In 1947, he sent evangelical workers to the Bicol region. Albay became a division in 1948 under Prudencio Vasquez. Camarines Norte came next, in 1948. Evangelization began in Camarines Sur in 1947, though it became a Division only in 1964 under Mario Rejuso. Work in Sorsogon began in 1948; the province was made a Division in 1951, again with Mario Rejuso as the first Division Minister. That same year, the Church entered Abra in the North; it became a Division in 1951, administered by Melencio Torres.
Manalo then reopened his Visayas offensive. He had entered some of the provinces in that region before the war. In 1949, he made Marinduque a Division with Pablo de Leon as Division Minister. Leyete became a division that year with Felix Ortiz as first Division Minister. So did Mindoro Occidental, under Pedro D. Almedina. Davao was made a Division in 1953, administered by Antonio Jerusalem, as well as Lanao, with Rufino Pangan as first Division Minister. Manalo made Catanduanes a Division after the first baptism was held there in April 1950 under Jose San Esteban.
Manalo converted Masbate into a Division in 1951 with Jerusaleo Vasquez as first Division Minister; Capiz in 1954, administered by Gregorio Earnshaw. Negros Oriental also became a division in 1950, under Filemon P. Bautista; and Samar in 1955 administered by Teofilo Bernardino. . Zamboanga del Sur (Pagadian), where evangelization began in 1950 was made a Division in 1962 with Remias Reformado as first Division Minister. Angel B. Canicosa was the first Division Minister of Romblon (1951). Misamis Oriental became a Division in 1954 under the administration of Samuel Gañ¡» and Surigao in 1947 under Perfecto S. Padilla. At about the same time Palawan became a Division administered by Pablo de Leon. Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, was also made a Division on 1960 administrated by Honorio Castro.
A Protestant author, Dr. Arthur Leonard Tuggy, attributes the Iglesia ni Cristos fantastic growth to, among other factors, Dedicate laymen eager to spread their message and an effective deployment of ministers. "And behind all this," he notes, "was the continuing charismatic leadership of its founder-head, Felix Manalo, now firmly anchored to a doctrinal base as Gods messenger for the Philippines..."
Chapels As Progress Indices
arallel to the Churchs growth was its massive church-building progress. The first chapel built on Gabriela street in Tondo, Manila in 1918, fashioned out of sawali, nipa and wood, typified the style and materials of the early chapels, though they kept springing up like mushrooms across the nation. After the war, Manalo began to build magnificent concrete chapels, the first of these in Washington, Sampaloc, Manila completed in 1948. Next came the chapel-and-official residence of the Executive Minister in San Juan, Rizal. The grand complex was designed by Architect Juan Nakpil.
In 1953, three modern cathedral-size chapels rode up in Cubao, Quezon City, Caloocan City and Syquia, Sta. Ana, Manila. In 1954, the Baclaran chapel in Pasay was constructed followed in 1955 by the house of worship in Baguio City and another and another similar chapels were built in 1956 in Angeles, Pampanga and Artacho. Others followed in 1957; Paco, Manila and Tipas, Taguig, Rizal then in San Jose, Mindoro; Arayat, Pampanga; Cabanatuan City; Bacoor, Cavite; Orani, Bataan; Salinas, Cavite; and Balintawak, in Quezon City. Soon, giant INC chapels were also dominating the skylines of Tarlac; Malabon, Rizal; Lucena City in Quezon; Naujan, Mindoro; Bel air, Makati; Daet, Camarines Norte. Other landmarks of Church progress were built in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City (1962); Cavite City; Concepcion, Tarlac; Hagonoy, Bulacan; Naga City; Mapalad, Pampanga; Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija; Grace Park, Caloocan City; and Apalit, Pampanga.
Construction of these indicators of progress and Church permanency is not only a necessity but in compliance with Gods mandate saying, "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I shall dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8); and, "The house which I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods...Prepare timber for me in abundance, for the house I am to build will be great and wonderful" (II Chron. 2:5, 9, RSV).
The church builds these modern synagogues from its own funds, without any aid from any source, foreign or domestic. As the present Executive Minister, Eraño G. Manalo, stresses:
"You can ask the government or any bank and financial institution in the Philippines, if the Church of Christ ever borrowed from them even a single centavo, and they will say, No, for we never did. We have been building all our chapels with the voluntary contributions of our members."
Need For A Successor
Felix Manalo made his second trip to the United States in August 1938 at the instance of the Christian Alliance Society. He welcomed the opportunity to deliver speeches abroad at their invitation for it would also enable him to undergo treatment of a stomach ailment. He was able to comply with some speaking engagements but unable to undergo treatment for when he fell ill he instructed his secretary, Cirilo Gonzales, to bring him back immediately to the Philippines.
Arriving in Manila after four months in the United States, the 52-year-old leader was welcomed at Pier 7 by thousands of Church members. He was pleased but his health troubled him.
But it was only in 1953, at 67, that he met the idea of succession head-on. On January 23, that year, he summoned all division ministers and senior officials of the Church after their regular ministerial meeting to a special conference. He announced that when his time came, there must be someone to take his place. The unexpected announcement stunned the ministers because Manalo was then quite young and appeared very healthy.
At 2oclock that afternoon, the meeting proceeded with Felix Manalo presiding. The voting was held. The names of Eraño G. Manalo, Isaias Samson and Isaias Reyes were presented as candidates. Samson obtained two votes, while Erañ¯ ‡. Manalo obtained all of the remaining votes. He was subsequently proclaimed unanimously as the future Executive Minister. The body then elected his would-be assistants: Teofilo C. Ramos, as his "right hand man" and Cipriano Sandoval as his "left hand".
Manalo's Final Days
s a result of his sacrifices, Felix Manalo again felt his health deteriorating rapidly. His ulcer relentlessly seized him with severe pain that medicines procured from drug stores could not assuage. Consequently, he decided to seek treatment in the United States.
After bidding goodbye to his brethren, he enplaned on August 17, 1955 for the United States, accompanied by his son Erañ¯ ¡nd nursing aide Librada Enriquez. Legions saw him off at the airport, among them President Ramon Magsaysay. In the United States, they stayed in a hotel not far from the John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he would seek treatment. There he continued to receive reports from Manila. President Ramon Magsaysay phoned his concern and best wishes. Then Manalo changed his mind and decided to proceed to New York instead, and entered the Presbyterian Medical Center on September 2, 1955. The doctors who examined him advised surgery of the stomach after curing his diabetes. On September 9, he was successfully operated on for ulcers.
A month later he returned to manila and was once again welcomed by a huge throng led by President Magsaysay. Without having fully rested, Manalo, then 69, resumed the killing pace of his work attending and addressing rallies.
It was only after many years later, in February 1963, that Manalo fell gravely ill. He was rushed to St. Lukes hospital in Quezon City where doctors decided to remove immediately "an intestinal obstruction". Manalo rejected the surgery, saying, "Doctors can cure only those who are not yet to die, not those whose time has come." By March 21, 1963, his incapacitation was total and he was transferred to Veterans Memorial Hospital. Doctors operated on him but failed to give him relief from pain.
On April 2, the doctors worked on Manalo again to sew back part of his intestines which had burst and hemorrhaged. On April 11, they performed a third surgery on him. It proved to be the last.
The following day, April 12, 1963, at 2:35 oclock in the morning, the brilliant, tireless and courageous Filipino religious leader who had brought the Iglesia ni Cristo to great heights of glory and prominence, breathed his last. He was 77 years old. It was his 49th year as chief steward of the Church.
Hundreds of thousands of faithful mourned the death of their "elder brother" at the San Juan chapel. Later, the body was transferred to the new cathedral-chapel in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City where members from far-flung provinces and cities continued to stream for a last glimpse of their fallen leader.
On April 23, 1963, as he had wished, Felix Manalo was interred in the pagoda housing his office and private study below the Executive Ministers residence in San Juan, Rizal, there to remain up to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Before his death, Manalo revealed to his senior ministers his vision of the Iglesia ni Cristo in this manner:
"The Church of Christ will continue to grow and prosper. Much of the glory and power of other churches will be transferred to this Church because it is the true Church founded by Christ."
Manalo died after almost 50 years of leading the Iglesia ni Cristo. At the time of his death he had already secured its stability, having established and nurtured a strong body of ministers and evangelical workers, a nationwide network of deacons and deaconesses, internal Church organizations for young and old, tested propagation tools like religious debates, public rallies and informative publications like the Pasugo and , above all, a body of biblical doctrines other churches have not successfully disputed. Under his leadership he had forged a strong bond of brotherhood among the Church members and kept them united and in harmony.
It was on this strong, enduring foundation that his successor, Eraño G. Manalo, has had to build.
When the torch was passed to the then 38-year-old Eraño in 1963, he pledged, "I intend to carry on my fathers mission, preserve according to his method, and inspire discipline and piety among my brothers and sisters in the Church. I know I have their support and vote of confidence."
Those who believed the Church of Christ would deteriorate after the death of Felix Manalo were grossly disappointed. For, on the contrary, the pace of its growth has accelerated. The new steward has proved to be modern, equally effective leader and administrator. Under his leadership the Church has spanned and transcended the oceans and stamped the indelible imprint of Christianity among other Asian peoples, Americans, Europeans, Africans and even among Muslims in the Middle East.
Eraño Manalo is quick to point out, however, that the success of the Church should not be attributed to him. In his own words:
"All the power and the glory which the church is enjoying result from the fact that when I assumed the position, the Church already had a firm and solid foundation laid by the late Executive Minister. The Church is now enjoying the fruits of his vision, his sufferings and sacrifices, his love and fortitude. Above all, everything is happening according to the will of God."
NOTES BY THE AUTHOR
In preparing to write his book, the writer was assisted by Church ministers Teofilo C. Ramos Sr., Bienvenido C. Santiago, Adriel Meimban and Jerson T. Samson. He also used for reference materials the unpublished masteral thesis of Professor Julita R. Sta. Romana, the still unpublished biography of Executive Minister Felix Y. Manalo by professor Dolores Garcia, and the unpublished biography manuscripts of Bienvenido C. Santiago and Adriel Meimban on the same subject. Aside from periodic conversations, Minister Ramos also lent the author some printed materials about Brother Manalo, as did Minister Benjamin Santiago, a long-time associate of the church leader and erstwhile editor, and writer of the Pasugo. The latter publication is reservoir of vital information about the Church and its deceased leader.
For Brother Manalos temperament and prophetic vision, much is drawn by the author from occasional talks with the present leader of the Church, Ka Erdy Manalo.
by Isabelo T. Crisotomo in the May-June 1986 issue of the Pasugo magazine
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[Who Are The True Preachers Sent By God?]
[Interesting Questions about "Messenger of God - Prophecies"]
[Why We Call Him 'The Last Messenger']
[Study Iglesia Ni Cristo]