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In the Philippines, a baby step toward Christian unity


Ralffralff | CC BY-SA 4.0

John Burger - published on 08/09/21 - updated on 08/09/21

Catholic Church and independent church acknowledge historical reasons for separation, pledge cooperation.

A baby step toward Christian unity has been taken in the Philippines.

The Roman Catholic Church and a breakaway group known as the Filipino Independent Church signed a letter of common understanding acknowledging the historical reasons for their separation and outlining the areas where they find agreement.

“We, representing the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), express our joint thanksgiving to the Lord for the gift of the Gospel for the Filipino people,” said the August 3 statement, “Celebrating the Gift of Faith, Learning from the Past and Journeying Together.”  

This year, the Church has been celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. 

“We acknowledge this gift of Faith in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed,” said the statement. “We share the same Baptism, using the Trinitarian formula. This sacramental initiation incorporates us all in the one Body of Christ. Moreover, both churches manifest a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking her maternal intercession for all her children to come together and for upholding the dignity of women.”

A companion statement signed the same day expressed “mutual recognition of baptisms” between the IFI and the Catholic Church. The IFI uses the Trinitarian formula in baptism, and like certain other Protestant Churches, it is considered a valid sacrament by the Catholic Church. 

The two Churches said they stand ready to engage in “spiritual ecumenism” and participate in joint activities such as the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Stations of the Cross during Lent and Holy Week processions, and Scripture reading on Easter Sunday. 

“Members of both churches can also join hands in social action ministries such as defending human rights and the dignity of the poor, migrants, women and children, and indigenous people; care for the environment; and peace building. We can hold ecumenical commemorations for those who have died in the pursuit of social justice,” the statement said. 

Restoration of full communion might take some time, however. Since the schism, the IFI has entered into a Partnership Covenant with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and has established concordats of full communion with the Episcopal churches and with several churches in the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and with the Church of Sweden. It also accepts women in the ordained ministry.

Mutual forgiveness

The formation of the IFI in 1902 was not against the Catholic Church, said the statement, but rather against “the continued domination of Spanish bishops and priests in the dioceses and parishes of the colony.” The schism occurred at a time of struggle for independence against the colonial rule of Spain and the United States. “As part of a nationalist revolution, the creation of the IFI also signified a ‘religious revolution’ that appealed to the patriotic sentiments of the populace aspiring for the birth of a nation,” the statement acknowledged.

“Both the IFI and the RCC thus express their readiness for more ecumenical cooperation amidst diversity,” the document concluded. “As church leaders, we ask and pray for mutual forgiveness for any injuries inflicted in the past. We shall strive for the healing and purification of memories among our members.”


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