First of all, I am not a member of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Second, it is never my intention to malign its reputation. Third, I only have questions. The IFI (whose members are commonly called Filipinistas or Aglipayans) has a strong presence in Misamis Occidental and particularly in our place (Plaridel) where they constitute roughly 40 percent of the total population, based on my estimate.
They have customs and traditions which are similar to us Catholics yet differ on two important points i.e clerical celibacy and auricular confession. But aside from that, we share many of the same practices like procession, fiesta celebration, Flores de Mayo, sacred images, Sugat or Salubong, etc. There were even times when I attended their services, once when we had our baccalaureate Mass in their church and at other times when I attended the funeral Mass of our neighbor. The altar and the priest looked ostentatiously Catholic. They even reign in the streets around Looc during Lent since they are the only ones who hold processions there. The Catholic church in Looc is not a parish yet and so the faithful join the Lenten services in the mother church. In their processions, they carry the same images we Catholics do, starting from Sta. Veronica to the Santo Entierro. Well, that was before. Something different has happened now.
They stopped holding processions, they stopped celebrating Flores de Mayo, they stopped the pious practice of salubong, the street once teeming with IFI worshippers during Lenten processions is now silent. They now frown upon sacred images and plan to abolish the practice in the near future. They are now ready to disassociate themselves from Catholic influences. One thing to note here though is that this is a crisis particular of their church in Mindanao, precipitated by Protestant-leaning IFI bishops. In one of my correspondence with a Facebook friend, I found out that IFI churches in Luzon are still as traditional as they were before. I just wonder what the scenario would be if an IFI from Mindanao who now thinks processions are wrong meets an IFI from Luzon who still thinks processions are right. They both belong to the same church yet cannot agree on what practice is wrong or right. The overall hierarchy has defined nothing about what’s happening in Mindanao. To whose authority should they turn to in case of questions in doctrine? Their bishops composing their magisterium cannot even agree among themselves. In fact, the IFI in Clarin resented the move of their priest prohibiting these practices. In Plaridel, the IFI faithful asked our parish priest (Catholic) to join our Good Friday procession while at the same time bringing with them their sacred images. In the IFI parish of Labo, Ozamiz City, faithfuls even joined the Black Saturday service bringing with them gallons of water to be blessed and attended the Easter celebration of salubong in the Catholic church. IFI faithfuls in Aloran even issued a manifesto opposing the moves against their traditions. A number of IFI faithful are at loss about what’s happening, why such moves are ordered by no less than their priests whom they expect to protect their heritage and their pious traditions attacked by no less than their bishops.
What’s happening now in the IFI has a precedent in the Anglican Communion – of which the IFI has a representation in the Lambeth Conference. Students of ecclesiastical history could easily compare this with the High and Low Church division of Anglicanism. High Church refers to Anglo-Catholicism which values and upholds the Catholic heritage and traditions of the Anglican Church while the Low Church values more its Protestant heritage. The present Church of England is divided along this line. There are Anglican faithful who continued Catholic practices like processions, the recitation of the rosary, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and believes in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist while there are others who abhor religious processions, veneration of the saints, and denies Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Again, they both belong to the same church, are under the same hierarchy but divided along contrasting points of belief. It is interesting to note here that the beliefs mentioned earlier such as the saints and the Real Presence have already been attacked before by no less than Fr. Gregorio Aglipay in his early epistles when the IFI was still in its toddler years. I don’t know if it is appropriate at this moment to coin a term like High Church Aglipayanism and Low Church Aglipayanism – the former referring to the dioceses of Luzon and the latter in the dioceses of Mindanao.
I think I shall end my observations here since it would not be appropriate for me to comment much in the affairs of a church of which I am an outsider. Actually, as a Catholic, I have nothing to do with their church but as a Christian, I am praying for unity.