The Legend of Felix Ysagun Manalo
I heard about Iglesia during the Japanese time. My father used to talk to our neighbor who is an Iglesia. Incidentally, I have already met Manalo in Meycawayan where we lived in my grandfather’s house as a child. There is an Iglesia in the other side of town. I met Felix Manalo again around 1950. He looked like an ordinary man, but there is something so striking in him in the way he talked and the wisdom that flowed in every word he spoke. He never talked about him and for himself, indeed, a selfless man.
earned my lessons the hard, but lasting way. I only need God who will hold my hand like my father, and everything was mine to play without regrets and fear. I am with God and God is with me.
God will show you the way as He showed it to me, I did not know how and where to go about in Manila, but He has always led me from that small town in Lipa, to quest and adventure on the Philippines’ nooks and crannies and to the rest of the world’s most spectacular cities like New York, my second home where I will reside for over thirty years and the rest of my days.
From a “well-to-do” home to become homeless in Manila, was blind and bold for me. At twenty one years old, I was young and full of dreams, I took shelter in Iglesia ni Cristo and was given a role or position (katungkulan). I became a choir leader as I love to sing. I went everywhere to join Ka Felix, from Manila to Baguio. I used to come and greet him after “Samba” and shake his hands as he usually stands by the tree outside the church to greet the church goers.
On the other hand, after the singing, my worries won’t leave me alone in peace, and leave me sleepless all nights and days. Then one day at around four o’clock in the morning, I found myself knocking at Ka Felix's house in Riverside. The guard let me in but warned me, “It’s too early in the morning”. Ka Felix heard my conversation with the guard through the intercom and he said, “Let her in”.
He was still on his bathrobe, getting ready for his day. He looked at me and asked, “Why are you here to bother me at this time?” I told him, “I cannot sleep, I have so many problems!” He asked me to kneel before him and laid his hand upon me to bless me. Then he asked me to look at him straight in his eyes and I followed without a single blink. I felt lighter in my spirit and went home. Everything flowed in my life since.
I can attest for my story and to the so many “Ka’s” who enjoyed God's Bounty because of Ka Felix who mentored and advocated for entrepreneurship, a legacy that will always be in our hearts, mind and spirit now and the generations to come.
He thinks and writes a lot. He will spend days and weeks in his room, even forgetting to eat and sleep that made him frail over time. When he opens his room, papers and manuscripts are all over showing how much he has written behind his locked room. He later dies of peptic ulcer disease because of so many missed meals.
Pilar, the eldest was born in 1914. She studied at Women’s College Conservatory of Music. As a Composer, she was ordained by Ka Felix to hold a position as Music Director and wrote all the music and hymns sung until today. She gave me a role as a choir leader, I had a chance to work with her as her assistant. Dominador, the eldest son, became a civil engineer and architect and ordained by his father, to design and build Iglesia’s churches according to the scriptures. Hence, as of this modern time, you will see tall churches in gothic architecture with tops pointing to the heavens. These churches mushroomed in the Philippines, particularly in Riverside, Cubao, Bago Bantay, Munoz, Washington, Sampaloc, Sta Ana, Paco and Baclaran. He worked so hard and efficiently, respecting the value of even the smallest nails that are used to build the church. He will pick up all the nails that fall on the ground and use them again. Salvador and Erano were ordained by their father in 1952, to become the head of the church from 1954. Avelina, married a doctor and did not have a significant role in the church. The youngest son, Bienvenido, became an architect after his elder brother, Dominador. He took over the church buildings later on.
Felix was sent by Christ as “Sugo”, a messenger to spread the words of God about the coming of calamities at the end of the world which will be called Dark Ages, when all the people will die and the last judgement of God. Those who follow His words as written in the scriptures will be saved and enjoy the paradise of heaven, where peace and happiness will be forever in eternity as God has promised.
It was early in the year of 1963, when he died. We knew that the last day is coming. I went to visit him in the Veterans Hospital where he was confined. Accompanied by a couple close to him, we came gathered to his bedside, and the man asked Ka Felix, “Do you remember this woman”? He remembered me as the doctor’s wife who chose Iglesia over her husband’s offer to bring her to America. Then he showed us numbers in the clock, 4 and 12, saying “These numbers have meaning”. This later came up to be the date of his death on that night we were there, April 12. He died at 77 years old.
He was survived by his wife and children and the entire Iglesia. He has envisioned his own mortality and succession by his son, Erano, who is older than me by 5 years. His death brought great sorrow to his church. We spent few weeks to bring his casket to several Iglesia churches, until we carried him from San Francisco, Quezon City to his final resting place in San Juan, Rizal, within the compound of his home. To bury him near his home and with guards all day long will prevent people from kneeling on his tomb. People came from all over the country, dignitaries, famous and influential people, including the president of the Philippines, Diosdado Macapagal. We walked following his body by foot, we caused a lot of traffic. I remember, I was dressed in my “sutana” because I was leading the choir, I have to direct the traffic to make way for the procession. People came to his gravesite every day for months and years, bringing flowers, that the scent has been in the air. It became a job for the guards to clean after the flowers. His remains were ultimately transferred in the Central Office, Quezon City, where his son Erano was also interred, up to this day.
Iglesia ni Cristo: A Historic Philosophy
It was in the darkest of times when the first World War was looming ominously in the global horizon, that Ka Felix formally incorporated Iglesia ni Cristo, on July 24, 1914. After a journey of diligent study driven by a unrelenting desire to seek truth, from Roman Catholicism to various Protestant sects then brewing in the country during the American regime, Ka Felix started a movement away from doctrine-based Christianity to a Bible-based Christianity in the Philippine Archipelago. It was as if a shaft of light had pierced through dark clouds of almost 500 years of a colonial mind-set imposed by the Roman church over most of the people, the land, and its government. There was Divine Light of truth reflected in Ka Felix’s heart as he internalized the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. Simple, charismatic, educated, persistent and determined, he envisioned the Church of Christ and inspired many more souls to seek truth in Biblical teachings, prayer, study and reflection, hymns and worship service, as well as to practice the faith by renewing their personal lives and serving others. The fierce resistance and outcry to the Iglesia’s new vision permeating the masses and spreading influence was not surprising. As the saying goes, “The truth hurts.” By the same token, the “Truth shall set you free,” as Jesus said in the Bible.
This movement that has been growing beyond the home base to over 151 countries where the Iglesia’s inspired Messenger or “Sugo,” has resonated with different races and cultures of the world. For how else could one explain its rapid and peaceful spread and growth in the last 106 years? Where other faith traditions were losing footholds, the Iglesia ni Cristo continues to thrive and prosper.
My early impression of the Iglesia came from my own mother who said that Ka Felix Manalo made it very easy for simple folks to understand and believe in Christ. Through His words from the Bible, primarily using the native language Tagalog as medium of expression, this plain speaking manner found and dug deep roots in the Filipino psyche, unlike the ritualistic, doctrinal, even elitist approaches of other groups expressed in a foreign tongue. To my mother that was quite an accomplishment. In my own observation, empathetic responses like the sounds of emotional outpourings during worship are heart-felt answers that affirm divine instruction, making the teachings of Christ real and powerful to the believer.
An indigenous (“katutubo”) religious movement that has lifted a people’s consciousness to another level cannot be ignored. Abraham Lincoln said: “The ultimate measure of success is not what you have become, or who you have become, but what others have become because of you.” It was Ka Felix impact on a simple woman returning a young Irene’s lost purse intact that spurred Irene's deep curiosity to learn more about this “new” faith.
In an era of strict conformity to prevailing religious norms, the remarkable saga of Irene Moraga Lumbrera bears telling as part of Filipinos’ social history. It is Sakop, a Filipino cultural value of inclusion, even if religious practices are different. This basic family or ritual kinship is shown by the term “Ka” affixed to the individual’s name, who is referred to as kapatid (sibling, brother/sister), kaibigan (friend), kasama (ally, companion, partner), kamag-anak (kindred, relative), kababayan (country man) and kapwa (fellow human being). Ka is attached to everyone in the web of relationships that define a Filipino.
This spirit of Sakop is the backdrop of our focus on Irene as a person exemplifying our Filipino essence and values. It also reflects our mission to revere our older generation’s life stories and lessons learned. Irene’s life story is a simple but shining milestone in our legacy for all future Filipino generations in the homeland and in the diaspora. May her Sakop increase!
(This brief intellectual perspective on the historic philosophy of Felix Y. Manalo and prelude to the legacy of Irene Moraga Lumbrera is a special contribution by Lutgarda M. Resurreccion.)