Sablayan, OCCIDENTAL MINDORO – In this historic and burgeoning municipality, a nineteenth-century church was recently restored. The townsfolk call it as the “lumang simbahan” of the old poblacion of their town, Sablayan. It was first founded as a mission in 1819 by the Augustinian Recollect missionaries.
Around 1843, Sablayan probably became a parish. Succeeding Augustinian Recollect curates’ attempt to build a church made of solid materials failed. But during the term of P. Fray Jacinto Pérez de San Agustín, 1860-1865, he was able to complete the construction of the church made of stone. The church was dedicated to St. Sebastian. It was an average size church enough to accommodate the population of the parish at that time.
Through the years the old church of Sablayan survived natural calamities, revolution and war. In 1922, the Augustinian Recollects began to turn over all their missions in Mindoro Occidental to the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD). Thus a new history chapter began in Sablayan.
Under the SVD
Between 1940 and 1953 the spiritual and sacramental needs of the people of Sablayan were under the care of the SVD missionaries who came from San Jose, Mindoro Occidental. By 1953 the municipal hall and the town was transferred in the interior around 1.8 kilometers from the old población.
The site of the parish church was also transferred by the SVD parish priest. A new and bigger parish church was built. The new parish church was just 1.15 kilometers from the old one. The “lumang simbahan” became a chapel and through the years it was deteriorating.
In 2016, the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose (Mindoro) sought the help of two architects from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila to assess and study the “lumang simbahan.” The result was that the old church was in danger of collapsing and it had to be closed.
However, the local government unit (LGU) of Sablayan, with the help from National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the Department of Tourism (DOT), took interest in the restoration of the “lumang simbahan.” The Memorandum of Agreement on the restoration of the deteriorating old church was signed between the NHCP and the Vicariate of San Jose since Sablayan belongs to its ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
On May 12, 2017, the NHCP Restoration Team began in earnest the detailed structural study of the “lumang simbahan.” Using the same materials that were used in the building of the church almost two centuries ago, the restoration team faithfully restored the church to its almost original condition.
Moreover, using the latest technology, the restoration workers guaranteed structural integrity of the church. In May 2018, the restoration work was completed. The LGUs and the parishioners of Sablayan worked together to clean the newly restored church and its surroundings. The date of the rededication of the newly restored “lumang simbahan” was set on July 12, 2018.
The day of the rededication of the “lumang simbahan” came. It was raining but it did not dampen the spirit of the people. There was festive mood in the air. The program was set: the NHC Commemorative marker was unveiled outside the church by Bishop David William Antonio, D.D., Apostolic Administrator of the Vicariate of San Jose, assisted by Mayor Eduardo Gadiano.
Then at the main entrance of the church was the official signing of the “turnover of the completed restoration project” to the Vicariate of San Jose. From the church, the honored guests and parishioners proceeded to the covered court of the school where speeches were delivered and certificates were given to distinguished recipients. Present were: Bishop David William Antonio, DD; Rev. Fr. Arnel Belamide, parish priest of Sablayan; Hon. Eduardo Gadiano, town mayor; Hon. Andres Dangeros, vice-mayor; Mr. Alvin Alcid, officially representing the head of the NHCP; Director Ludovico Badoy; Directress Alicia Luisa Diploma, DOT Region IV-B.
Adding more color to the event was NHCP’s declaration of the newly restored “lumang simbahan” as a church heritage site of Mindoro Occidental.
The Augustinian Recollects were invited for the occasion. On his behalf, Very Rev. Fr. Dionisio Q. Selma, OAR, prior provincial of the Augustinian Recollect Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno, sent Rev. Fr. Emilio Edgardo A. Quilatan, OAR, who gave words of thanks and a piece of Recollect history of Sablayan reminding the people of the sacrifices made by the early Augustinian Recollect missionaries in evangelizing their ancestors.
The ceremony for the cutting of the ribbon was held at the main entrance of the church. The people congregated back to the church as Bishop David assisted by Mayor Gadiano did the ribbon cutting. Afterwards, the celebration of the Holy Mass, the highlight of the celebration, began. LGUs, civil officials, guests, the faithful, deacons and concelebrating priests witnessed Bishop David rededicating the newly restored “lumang simbahan” in honor of Our Lady of Peace.
To date the newly restored “lumang simbahan” of Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental, is the only church built by the Augustinian Recollects in Mindoro almost two centuries ago that has been continually used and preserved by the people. Thus, the faith and concern of the people of Sablayan moved them to restore and preserve the church of their forefathers.