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The Archdiocese of Cotabato

 AMCThe Archdiocese of Cotabato is located in Central Mindanao covering most of the civil provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and some parts of
North Cotabato. The total land area of the Archdiocese is 9,575 square
kilometers. Of the 1,240,137 population 47.25% are Catholics, 46% are
Muslims and 6.25% belong to other Christian denominations and religions.
Serving the Archdiocese are 84 priests – 49 belong to the Diocesan Clergy
of Cotabato and the rest belong the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the
Marist Fathers. At present, there are 227 Women Religious and 7 Religious
Brothers who serve in the different Archdiocesan Apostolates.

I. The Beginning of the Church in Cotabato

In the early 1600’s the expansive territory now covering the whole area of
the archdiocese was known as the Cotabato Empire with only a few settlers
who were already practicing Islam – a religion that predates Catholicism
in the island of Mindanao. When the Spanish Conquistadores attempted to
colonize the territory, these early settlers aggressively resisted
colonization making the empire very lightly populated for a long time. It
was only in the 1900’s that the population grew due to migration of other
tribes from the northern islands of Luzon and the Visayas.

A. The Jesuit Missionaries

The first missionaries to set foot in Cotabato were the Jesuit Fathers who
arrived in Pollok on September 16, 1861 together with then Governor of
Mindanao, Jose Garcia Ruiz. After inspecting the area for almost a year,
the Jesuit Fathers opened their first mission station in Tamontaka in
1862. The mission was later called “Mission del Rio Grande” and its
growth can be attributed to two dedicated Jesuit Missionaries, Jose
Ignacio Guerrico and Jacinto Juanmarti.

Many years later “Mission del Rio Grande” became part of the church in
Zamboanga when it was established as a diocese in 1916. Aware that the
territory was very wide for only a few Jesuit Fathers, the bishop of
Zamboanga, Bishop Luis del Rosario, S.J. thought of bringing new
missionaries to take care of his flock. With the help of Fr. Ulric Arcand
of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris, Bishop del Rosario invited the
Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. After willingly accepting the
bishop’s invitation, the first Oblates came to Cotabato in 1939.

B. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Among the pioneering Oblate Missionaries were Frs. Emile Bolduc, Egide
Beaudoin, George Dion, Joseph Boyd, Cuthbert Billman, Francis McSorley and
Fr. Gerard Mongeau as the first superior. Their first few years were
faced with many challenges but despite all these they were still able to
successfully carry out their missionary thrusts in the province. One of
these thrusts was to educate the youth in the Catholic faith. Because of
this, the very first Catholic High School called Notre Dame was
established in Midsayap town in 1941.

After the war, the Oblates found a great opportunity of building more
Notre Dame Schools in the whole Province of Cotabato as the government
became apathetic in reopening public schools. This opportunity allowed
many Notre Dame Schools to flourish even as far as Sulu. By end of 1980
the Notre Dame Schools reached a total number of sixty high schools, six
colleges, twenty elementary, some kindergarten and a university. Due to
this large number of schools the Notre Dame Educational Association was
formed to centralize its operation.

Aside from establishing schools in different Parishes, the Oblates also
established the following: Printing Press, Broadcasting Corporation,
Hospital, Minor Seminary, Social Action Center, Foundation and Family
Program. All these were established bearing the name Notre Dame.
With these many significant developments in the church in Cotabato, the
Holy See finally declared this Oblate territory as a Prelature on
September 16, 1950. Fr. Gerard Mongeau became its first bishop when it
was elevated to a diocese in 1978. Finally, a year later, it became an
archdiocese on December 12, 1979.

When Archbishop Gerard Mongeau, OMI resigned in 1980, Archbishop Philip
Smith, OMI replaced him and served the archdiocese for 18 years. When the
latter resigned in 1998, Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, then
Archbishop of Nueva Segovia, was appointed Archbishop of Cotabato who
continues to shepherd the archdiocese up to the present with his auxiliary
Most Reverend Jose Colin Bagaforo.

II. Basic Ecclesial Communities – Our Present Archdiocesan Thrust

Today the Pastoral Programs of the Archdiocese are geared towards building
and strengthening of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC’s) locally known
as Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban. Needless to say, all ministries of
the archdiocese are implementing their programs in view of a Renewed
Church from the grassroots level, i.e. the BEC’s upto the archdiocesan
level.

A. Catechetical Ministry

The ongoing formation of the faithful is realized particularly in school
catechesis especially for public elementary and high school students. Most
of the religious associations also take part in the catechetical programs
of the Archdiocese by working specifically for the indigenous peoples
(lumads) imparting to them the basic tenets of our Christian faith.
Moreover, the continuing formation of the faithful in every parish is
strengthened in the BEC level with the hope that all faithful will be
strengthened in faith even in the grassroots level. To sustain this hope,
the catechetical ministry conducts trainings and seminars for BEC leaders
to equip them with skills on how to empower all their BEC members.

B. Family and Life Apostolate

The BEC as an Archdiocesan Pastoral Thrust is visible also in the Family
and Life Apostolate that takes care of the integral faith-formation of all
families. This apostolate goes down to the parish level to educate, form
and strengthen the families in and through the Basic Ecclesial
Communities. Among the programs that Family and Life Apostolate
implements are the Pre-Cana Conferences, Marriage Enrichment Seminars
(MES) and Family Encounters (FE). This apostolate also exerts efforts to
monitor and counteract the harmful and destructive influence of mass media
to family values. It also emphasizes the Natural Family Planning Method
and Responsible Parenthood as a means to a healthy family life.

C. Schools

The Notre Dame Schools in almost every town of the archdiocese play a
vital role in educating the young about social justice. The archdiocese
envisions these Notre Dame Schools to be centers of social transformation
by imparting to the students the different Christian values.

The Dioceses of Marbel and Kidapawan and other religious congregations own
some of these Notre Dame schools but all the Notre Dame Schools are
members of the Notre Dame Educational Association (NDEA) who seeks to
maintain good quality education and uphold our Catholic faith through the
schools’ curriculum. At present the NDEA has a total of 138 Notre Dame
schools.

D. Social Action-Justice and Peace Ministry

The Social Action-Justice and Peace Center Ministry was created in October
1984 in response to the many challenges that beset the archdiocese which
include extreme poverty, environmental destruction and war. Since 1984
this ministry has been conducting programs and services pertaining to
Social Justice and Peace Concerns. Among the programs it implements are
Justice and Peace Education, capacity building, project planning, fund
raising campaigns for victims of injustices and conflicts, disaster
response services and other long-term and sustainable development
projects. After almost fifteen years since its creation, this ministry of
the archdiocese is still committed to foster social transformation in
accordance with the Social Teachings of the Church especially in promoting
justice and building peace in all communities. This ministry of the
archdiocese also works in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services
(CRS).

E. Piso Serbisyo

To further manifest care for the welfare of the poor and the needy, the
archdiocese devised several reach-out and income generating programs. One
of these programs is Piso Serbisyo which is inspired by the biblical
stories of generosity especially that of St. Paul’s instructions to
Barnabas to be mindful of the poor (Gal 2:10). This program was launched
in 2007.

As a charitable agency of the Archdiocese, it aims at spreading God’s love
through generous giving. It also provides livelihood projects,
scholarship programs for the youth, feeding program, community financial
assistance and other relief services for victims of both man-made and
natural calamities.

After two years since its launching, the program continues to prosper with
the support of the faithful as they continue to drop their peso coins in
the Piso Serbisyo cans visible in churches, chapels, banks, schools,
stores and shops.

F. Youth Ministry

A majority of the Archdiocesan Programs are closely focusing on the youth
in parishes and BEC levels, more so in the academe particularly through
the Notre Dame Schools. The Archdiocesan Youth Ministry continues to do
its task of leading and redirecting the youth through its continuing
formation which is realized in the ongoing parish youth visitations and
consultations, seminars and workshops on leadership skills, on-going
updating especially on issues that directly concern them and livelihood
training programs that would eventually make them productive and
responsible in their own local communities especially in the Basic
Ecclesial Communities. With these programs the Archdiocese continues to be
very optimistic and hopeful in forming the youth to become vital signs of
growth in faith in the archdiocese.

G. Lay Leadership (Lay Empowerment)

The Archdiocese deems very important the formation of lay leaders in order
to sustain the above-mentioned archdiocesan programs. Empowering the
laity is so vital for the archdiocese because they are the primary agents
of renewal especially in the grassroots level, i.e., in the Basic
Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The archdiocese realizes that the church
can truly reach out to the poor and the needy especially through the BECs,
thus, there’s a need to reinforce and strengthen the lay leaders who are
all members of the BECs. Through the Archdiocesan Pastoral Team the
archdiocese equips lay leaders with basic skills especially in BEC
organizing, facilitating Parish Pastoral Assemblies and Liturgical
Formation for Lay Ministers. All these programs are being conducted in
the different parishes hoping to deepen a faithful commitment in the
service of the Church through the BEC’s.

CBCP Monitor – August 17-30, 2009 – Vol13-n.17 – #B3