Walking with the Saints

Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

Activist, revolutionary, champion of the people and modern-day apostle. These are the attributes that describe Gregorio Aglipay. I must admit that I didn’t know much about Gregorio before I was assigned this weeks’ reflection on the saints taken from Holy Women, Holy Men, which required that I take a closer look than I obviously had in the past. I’m glad I did. I did know that he was guiding force and principle founder of the Philippine Independent Church, but there is a rich and interesting back-story.

Gregorio was a curious and adventuresome young boy who liked to climb the tallest trees and to swim in the dangerous currents of the river. I think my grandson Nate would appreciate that. We recently came back from a three-day stay at Three Rivers – a gift of Sandy and Sue Smock – and we returned with the mantra of “We didn’t just go to the river, we went IN the river.” Like Gregorio, Nate is adventuresome and he inspired me to join in that spirit. So we ended up in the river. Heaven.

But other than being a bold adventurer, the young Gregorio also learned about oppression and the misuse of power at a young age when he and his uncle were arrested by the Spanish colonial authority for failing to meet the quota for tobacco planting. That moment panted a seed of resentment that would turn to and activism and one day burst into full life as one of the most influential revolutionary movements in Philippine history.

Gregorio was ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church on December 21, 1889 on the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle at the age of twenty-nine. Nine years later the Philippine Revolution began to bring an end to Spanish colonization. The life of the church was intertwined with the government to the degree that what affected one affected both, and so revolutionary acts toward the state would also affect the church. So Gregorio, already frustrated by the fact that the Spanish hierarchy would not allow native Filipinos to rise in the ranks of the church, stood right in the middle of the tension. A choice had to be made and Gregorio chose to support the revolution and called upon his fellow priests to do the same and occupy the parishes in resistance. Many did.

The Catholic Church offered Gregorio a curious deal. He could become a bishop in the church in return for stepping away from the revolution, or face excommunication. He refused, and eventually the entire Philippine Independent Church was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

When he became Supreme Bishop of the PIC, he allied himself with the nationalist and most radical political parties during his time like the Sakdalistas and later on even with the Socialist and Communist Parties. He actively involved himself in the parliamentary struggle and ran as the candidate for President of the Republic in 1935. His candidacy was supported by his own Republican Party in alliance with other nationalist political parties forming what they called the Coalition of the Oppressed Masses. As an ecumenist, he opened the door for cooperation and initiated dialogue and possible alliances with the other Churches like the Old Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. He laid the foundation for talks that would lead to entering into full communion with the Episcopal Church in 1960, adding to the rich and wonderful landscape of our church.

Gregorio Aglipay was a bold and brave leader in the Jesus Movement, leading his people through times of struggle and into freedom as he proclaimed the Good news of God in Christ while striving for justice, peace and dignity for all people. If that sounds familiar it should, because it’s in our baptismal covenant on page 305 of our Book of Common Prayer. It’s the life we are all called to. Gregorio lived that covenant in his life and witness. He is an inspiration to all of us for how to truly make a stand for Christ, who himself shared with Gregorio those attributes of an activist, revolutionary, champion of the people, and Supreme Apostle.

I don’t know how my grandson Nate’s life will unfold or what he may become. But I do know this: When my first reaction that day on the river was one of caution that would have kept us enjoying the river from the shore, Nate instead led us into the river, because he shares the attribute of an adventurer like that of the young Gregorio. Who knows where that spirit will lead?