by Quennie Ann J. Palafox

      December 30 of each year marks the nationwide commemoration of the martyrdom of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. We remember Rizal through floral offerings, flag raising and other activities honouring him. Wherever you go, you may find a Rizal monument, schools, streets, plazas, and other structures named after our hero. The Filipino Missal (Book of Divine Office) of the Philippine Independent Church published in 1961, featured the important feasts of the church including the birthday of Manuel L. Quezon (August 19) and the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal (December 30).
      Many Filipinos are unaware that once upon a time Rizal was declared a saint by the Philippine Independent Church and his death anniversary was celebrated in a manner similar to those of the saints.
      The Philippine Independent Church or Iglesia Filipina Independiente was founded on August 3, 1902 with Gregorio Aglipay as its first Obispo Maximo (Supreme bishop). In the beginning, the PIC became a major religious sect that attracted many followers to its anti-friar campaign and anti-imperialism campaigns. As a matter of fact, PIC churches displayed the Philippine flag at the side altar to impress to the public its reverence to the country and to the heroes who fought during the Spanish and American colonial period.

      How did Rizal become a saint? Wenceslao E. Retana, a noted Spanish Filipinologist and biographer of Rizal, was the first to mention Rizal’s canonization. Retana cited the “Acta de Canonizacion de los grandes Martires de la Patria Dr. Rizal y PP. Burgos, Gomez y Zamora” (Proceedings of the Canonization of the Great Martyrs  of the Country Dr. Rizal and Fathers Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora) published in Madrid in 1907 in his account of the canonization of Rizal. The Acta was published in the official organ of the sect, La Iglesia Filipina Independiente in 1903.

      According to the Acta, the Council of Bishops met in Manila on September 24, 1903 but there was no mention of where they met. It was the Secretary General, Bishop Isidoro Perez who presented to the Council the canonization of heroes Dr. Jose Rizal, Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora. By anonymous decision, Rizal and the three priests were canonized following the Roman Catholic rites.

      The proceedings of this canonization were recorded in the book of proceedings of the Independent Church and were signed by the following bishops: Gregorio Aglipay, the Secretary General Bishop Isidoro Perez of Cagayan, and Bishops Ponciano Manuel of Pangasinan, Gregorio Dizon of Zambales and Pampanga, Fortunato Clemeña of Cavite, Ramon Farolan of Abra and others.

      Aglipay ordained that no longer would masses for the dead be offered for Rizal and the three priests; on the other hand, their birth and death anniversaries would be celebrated in their honor. Their statues were revered at the altars of the sect, their names given at baptism, and, at least in the case of Rizal, novenas were written in his honor. An example of this was Tomas Velasco’s Novena a Pagdaydayaw ken Santo Martir Dr. Jose Rizal.

      Unfortunately the Acta and the Ilokano novena honoring Rizal would seem to be the only materials pertaining to Rizal’s canonization. However, former Obispo Maximo of the church Santiago Fonacier, and Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr., who were interviewed by historian Marcelino Foronda, said they were aware of the canonization of Rizal.

      The account of former Obispo Maximo Santiago Fonacier corresponded to that of the Acta. In the interview with Foronda, Fonacier said that the canonization rites transpired from two to four o’clock in the afternoon of September 24, 1903 at the house of Bishop Aglipay. This house used to stand at, 54 Ezpleta St., Sibakong, Sta. Cruz, Manila. Only Bishops and some priests were in attendance, what one would call a closed door conference, not open to the public, with no laymen present.

      On Sunday, September 27, 1903, considerable number of people flocked to the small chapel of the Independent Church on Calle Lemery, Tondo to listen to the Misa Cantada (Sung Mass). Instead of a requiem mass for the four martyrs, a mass proclaiming the newly canonized saints was held. The pictures of the new saints, Rizal, Burgos, Gomez and Zamora were placed on the main altar. Bishop Gregorio Aglipay officiated the mass while Bishop Gregorio Dizon of Zambales and Pampanga preached the sermon.

      The proclamation was an important event in the church as high ranking government officials and the relatives of the new saints gathered to witness it. Doña Saturnina Rizal, Rizal’s eldest sister and her husband Don Manuel Hidalgo were present. Marcelino Gomez, a nephew of Fr. Gomez, Don Paulino Zamora, a relative of Dr. Zamora, and Dr. Manuel Xeres Burgos, nephew of Fr. Burgos, also attended the mass. Notable personalities such as Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Don Felipe Buencamino, Isabelo de los Reyes, and Teodoro Gonzales also attended.

      The canonization of Rizal by the Philippine Independent Church was of great significance to the church and its members. Rizal’s images and statues were displayed in churches and chapels of PIC where the devotees could pay respect and worship him. Aglipay likewise used the novena in impressing upon the church members the political ideals of Rizal by publishing his own Novena del Dr. Jose Rizal.

      It is a historical fact that Jose Rizal had formidable influence on Gregorio Aglipay and the Philippine Independent Church, and this was manifested in the canonization of Rizal. Aglipay such admiration and respect for Rizal that he gave him such titles as “glorious apostle” and the “wise apostle” of God. Aglipay also mentioned that the teaching of the Philippine Independent Church was inspired by Rizal’s ideology and writings.

      Zoilo M. Galang wrote that it was Rizal who encouraged Aglipay to become a priest as he had lived with Aglipay in the house of Leonor Rivera in Intramuros. However, no other writer has corroborated the claim of Galang.

      Today, one can no longer see the statue or even picture of Rizal upon the altars of the PIC. Rizal’s birthday and death anniversary are no longer celebrated by the PIC in accordance with ceremonies restricted for saints. Clearly, the church has revoked its doctrine of revering Rizal as holy figure.