by: Quennie Ann J. Palafox

       Hailed as one of the most successful and influential religions in the Philippines which is now established in 84 countries and territories worldwide and with members of different races and ethnic affiliations, the Iglesia ni Cristo’s enormous triumph is credited by some observers to the commendable leadership of Felix Y. Manalo. Despite his being lacking in formal education, his personal shortcoming that most of his detractors frequently used against him, the Iglesia ni Cristo or Church of Christ astoundingly continues to grow with thousands of people converted in the church. It started as a humble religion with only few members in 1914 but looking at the INC now with its superb houses of worship, this indigenous Christian religion has emerged as a dominant church that obtained the respect of Filipinos for its role in nation-building.

       The 10th day of the month of May is known in history as the infamous death of Gat Andres Bonifacio who was executed in Mount Nagpatong on that same day. But for the members of the INC, this day is a very special one as they commemorate the birth anniversary of their most beloved Ka Felix Manalo, first Executive Minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo. Felix Manalo was born on May 10, 1886 in Calzada, a sitio in the barrio of Tipas, Taguig, Rizal province to parents Mariano Ysagun and Bonifacia Manalo. His birth brought so much joy to his parents that he was given the name Felix and was baptized in a nearby Catholic chapel. His family was poor that his father struggled to provide the needs of his family , took two jobs as a farm worker and fisherman while his mother nursed their children.

      As devoted Catholics, the couple had young Felix indoctrinated with Catholic teachings and had him educated in the caton class of Macario Ocampo in Tipas, a school during the Spanish period. Here, he was inculcated with Catholic doctrines, prayers and practices, in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic. Consequently, Felix became a religious follower of the Catholic faith.
Felix and his younger sister Praxedes lost their father Mariano Ysagun at the time of Philippine Revolution. His mother remarried to a widower, Clemente Mozo, but this union did not last when he died. When Felix was 12, he and his cousin Modesto went to Manila. His cousin Serapio Ysagun taught him photography while his uncle, Manuel Manalo, who owned a studio, employed him as an apprentice. Other skills he learned were goldsmithing, barbering and hat making.

        His faith wavered when he found a bible in parish and began to doubt the doctrines of the Catholic Church, including its practices, after reading it. This major turning point that centered on his religious awakening happened in 1900 at the parish house in Sampaloc, Manila where they stayed with their uncle, Fr. Mariano Borja.

       The emancipation of the Philippines from colonial yoke which led to the proclamation of a republic saw the rise of the government-sponsored Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Philippine Independent Church headed by Bishop Gregorio Aglipay. But the popular and avowedly nationalistic church failed to interest the young Felix, since its doctrines were not essentially different from the Roman Catholic Church. He gave a religion called Colorum a try hoping that it will satisfy his search for the true religion but it proved him wrong. Subsequently, he became an active member of the Iglesia Metodista Episcopal and found himself serving as a pastor in Manila. His great reverence for his mother made him drop his family name “Ysagun” for “Manalo” after her death and burial.

         Not long after, he switched to another religion, the Presbyterian Church. Then he later on transferred to another Protestant group, the Christian Missionary Alliance, known as Disciples of Christ in the United States, which practices baptism of its members through immersion. Convinced of its doctrines, he became an evangelist. He met his first love in the person of Teresa Sereneo from Paco, Manila, who later became his wife and bore him one child, Gerardo who died in his infancy. Similar from the previous religions he joined in, he stopped attending the Christian Missionary Alliance and decided to join the Seventh-Day Adventists Church, where he also served as an evangelist, he was 25 at that time. He became one of its most outstanding evangelists.

        When his wife died, Felix fell in love again to Honorata de Guzman who eventually became his wife when they got married on May 10, 1913. His search for the true church of God plummeted him into a spiritual crisis as he began to doubt the doctrine of the Sabadistas (Seventh-Day Adventist Church). He finally left the church in 1913. Disenchanted with the formal religions he had so far entered, Felix associated with those who upheld atheism and agnosticism. But the way some of them intentionally misquoted the scriptures repelled him.

      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 small, dimly-lit room in his friend Eusebio Sunga’s house in Pasay. He instructed everyone in the household not to disturb him and he became unmindful of time, food and the world outside. He emerged from that seclusion after three days and three nights of intensive study and reflection, his notebook filled with notes, certain that God had commissioned him to carry out a mission. After his long quest for the truth, he found the right one. With each religion he had joined his heart believed to be the true religion, he always raised doubts about its doctrines. Thus, his lingering effort to find the light, took him a little while until he found answers to his questions which resulted to his decision to preach what he was convinced was the true church – the Iglesia ni Cristo.

          In July 1914, Felix Manalo and wife, Honorata, left Pasay and journeyed across the Pasig River by boat on their way to Punta Sta. Ana where their friends willingly extended their help to the couple. Felix and his wife stayed in the workers’ quarters of the construction firm, Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Company. With the consent of his friends, he organized his first religious meeting in their room with only a few people listening. His impressive knowledge of the Bible, as well as the solid biblical foundation of the message he preached, amazed the listeners and resulted in the baptism of a handful of members, the core group of what would be the first lokal or local congregation of the Iglesia in the Philippines. After a few months, he left the small congregation under the care of the first ordained minister of his church. He went back to his birthplace, Tipas, Taguig where he decided to evangelize. In Tipas, he was ridiculed and persecuted and even stoned during his meetings by his towns mates. Despite the harassment he experienced, he did not stop from pursuing his mission. His sacrifices paid off when he was able to baptize a few converts, including some of his persecutors. The members used the tem “kapatid” in addressing a fellow church member and it became a practice among the INC members up to now.

          To avoid problems in the future, the Iglesia ni Cristo was officially registered as a corporation sole with Felix Manalo as executive minister on July 27, 1914. In 1919, Felix Manalo went to America and attended classes in a non-sectarian institution, the Pacific School of Religion in California to enrich further his knowledge of the Bible.

           Although the church’s expansion met many criticisms, Ka Felix’s mastery of the Bible was commended by the Genius Divinical College of Manila on Avenida, Rizal, a non-sectarian institution headed by Eugenio Guerero, which on March 28, 1931 conferred on Felix Manalo the degree, Master of Biblo-Science honoris causa.

        The country was plunged in chaos in the Second World War when the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Church ministers and members suffered horribly from the abuses of the Japanese and even Ka Felix himself was threatened with death by the Japanese to stop him from conducting church service. He actively helped the guerilla movement who fought the Japanese by serving as information officer and providing them money, food and clothing. Although frequently harassed by the Japanese, Ka Felix continued his church mission.

         When the war was finally over, Ka Felix began to build splendid concrete chapels, the first of these in Washington, Sampaloc, Manila completed in 1948. These chapels were constructed from its own funds without any aid from any outside source, foreign or domestic, according to Church officials.

         Like other human beings, Ka Felix felt his health weakening rapidly. His ulcer brought him relentless pain that not even medicines could remedy. On April 12, 1963 at 2:35 in the morning, he passed away at the age of 77. He passed on the leadership of the church to his son, Eraño Manalo who is now the Executive Minister of the church.