The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) has been in communion with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht since 1965. This unique church emerged in the context of the Philippine struggle for political independence in 1902 and understands itself as the church of the people and for the people, as its heraldic motto puts it “pro Deo et patria.” For its ongoing commitment to the cause of the Philippine people, both past and present, the church has paid a high price, often in blood. One of its best-known martyrs is Bishop Alberto Ramento, who was killed in 2006 because of his service to the Gospel.
Since its proclamation in 1902, the “IFI” has sought to develop a way of being church that is both true to the sources of the faith and in tune with modern insights, while being ecumenically oriented. This was exemplified by its first leading bishop (“Obispo Maximo”), Gregorio Aglipay (1860-1940). Through the agency of Bishop Eduard Herzog of the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland, contact was established shortly after the IFI’s proclamation, yet this did not immediately lead to a durable relationship. Following the Second World War, when the IFI was being led by Obispo Maximo Isabelo de los Reyes, Jr., this changed when the IFI established much closer ties with the Episcopal Church, culminating in the establishment of communion in 1961. Subsequently, communion was also realized with the other churches of the Anglican Communion and its partner churches, including the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. The latter agreement was signed in 1965 at the International Old Catholics’ Congress in Vienna. Interestingly, all these agreements used the same text as the Anglican – Old Catholic Bonn Agreement of 1931. Since 1995, the IFI is also in communion with the Church of Sweden.
In the course of the 1980s, contacts between the IFI and the Old Catholic Churches intensified, whereby the German Dr. Ilse Brinkhues and Bishop, later Obispo Maximo, Tito Pasco were key figures in this development. A series of cooperations in the sphere of diaconal work and mission were established, and the Dutch priest Wim de Boer spent some years as chaplain and lecturer at one of the seminaries of the IFI.
The new millennium led to a continuation of these various forms of cooperation, involving many churches of the Union of Utrecht, but also saw the development of new initiatives, in which the then Archbishop of Utrecht, Dr. Joris Vercammen, played a leading role. For instance, a youth exchange took place in 2002, a joint study project on public theology (“Catholicity and Globalization”) was conducted between 2006-2008, and a regular exchange of theologians was created through the Alberto Ramento professorial chair. Also, theologians of the IFI regularly take part in the summer school in Old Catholic theology.
With a growing number of faithful and clergy, various institutions, such as two seminaries, and led by Obispo Maximo Joel Porlares (elected in 2023), the IFI continues to be an inspiring and challenging partner for the Old Catholic Churches.
- Franz Segbers/Peter-Ben Smit, Katholisch in Zeiten der Globalisierung. Erinnerung an den Märtyrerbischof Alberto Ramento, den Bischof der Arbeiter und Bauern (Luzern: Exodus, 2010);
English translation: Catholicity in Times of Globalization. Remembering Alberto Ramento, Martyred Bishop of Workers and Peasants (Luzern: Exodus, 2011).
- Peter-Ben Smit/Wim H. de Boer, In necessariis unitas. Hintergründe zu den ökumenischen Beziehungen zwischen der Iglesia Filipina Independiente, den Kirchen der Anglikanischen Gemeinschaft und den Altkatholischen Kirchen der Utrechter Union, Studien zur Interkulturellen Geschichte des Christentums 155 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012).
- Peter-Ben Smit, Old Catholic and Philippine Independent Ecclesiologies in History. The Catholic Church in Every Place, Brill’s Series in Church History 52 (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
- Peter-Ben Smit/Ineke Smit (ed.), The Iglesia Filipina Independiente: Being Church ‘Pro Deo et Patria’ (Sliedrecht/Amersfoort: Merweboek/Pascal, 2022).
Text: Prof Dr Peter-Ben Smit