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‘A celebration of faith’: Church members mark 60th anniversary of missionary work in the Philippines

On April 28, 1961, around 100 Latter-day Saints gathered on the grounds of the American War Memorial Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio as Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rededicated the Philippines for missionary Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Philippines Area leaders unveil the 60th anniversary celebration logo in a video released in February 2021. Credit: Screenshot from YouTube
Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, left, General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, with counselors Elder Steven R. Bangerter and Elder Yoon Hwan Choi pose with the timeline of the Church in the Philippines, unveiled in spring 2021 and notes signific Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Cipriano Mumar and his family on the day of their baptism June 29, 1968, with Elder Lorenzo Bott and Elder Bruce Stone. They became the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Davao City. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, where President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the Philippines in 1961. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, where President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the Philippines in 1961. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
20140224 President don B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the Philippines in 1961 at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial above. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
First rented meetinghouse in Davao City, Philippines. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Members of the Church hold sacrament meeting under a tent in Kidapawan, Philippiness. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Members participate in a cultural activity in Digos, Philippines. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The creation of the 100th stake in the Philippines was presided over by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Sept. 10, 2010, during a special conference held at the New Frontier Theater (formerly KIA Theater). The first stake in Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Taniela Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, and Sister Anita Wakolo, center left; Elder Steven R. Bangerter, General Authority and first counselor of the Philippines Area, and Sister Susann A. Bangerter; Brig. Gen. Ra Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Taniela Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the First Vision statue at the Philippines Missionary Training Center on Friday, May 21, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Taniela Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area Presidency, speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the First Vision statue at the Philippines Missionary Training Center on Friday, May 21, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
There are two dedicated temples in the Philippines in Manila and Cebu City. There are five more that are under construction or announced. Credit: Church News graphic
Cebu City Philippines Temple Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A family in Manilla, Philippines, participates in a session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A family in Manilla, Philippines, participates in a session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A family in Manilla, Philippines, participates in a session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
A family in Manilla, Philippines, participates in a session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' 191st Annual General Conference, broadcast on Saturday, April 3, and Sunday, April 4, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Local Church leaders in Davao, Philippines, participate in the groundbreaking of the Davao Philippines Temple on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Attendance at the event was limited because of COVID-19 social guidelines. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Alabang Philippines Temple rendering. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Rendering of the Davao Philippines Temple, released Sept. 8, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Local Church leaders in Davao, Philippines, participate in the groundbreaking of the Davao Philippines Temple on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Attendance at the event was limited because of COVID-19 social guidelines. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Manila Philippines Temple Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Philippines Area presidency, right, and Church members pose for a photo with the rendering of the Alabang Philippines Temple during the groundbreaking service on June 4, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
20170916 Located across the street from the Manila Philippines Temple, the newly expanded Philippines Missionary Training Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dedicated by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
Rendering of the Urdaneta Philippines Temple. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, center, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses community leaders and Church membersa in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, Philippines, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. He broke ground for the new temple, the Church’s third in the Philipp
Holding a shovel in the center of the line, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addresses community leaders and Church membersa in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, Philippines, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. He broke ground for the new temple
Senior Church leaders joined community leaders in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, Philippines, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, to break ground for a new temple in the Philippines.
The First Presidency announced the open house and dedication dates for the Cebu City Philippines Temple. Credit: IIntellectual Reserve Inc.
The statue of Moroni is hoisted high atop the Cebu City Philippines Temple.
The statue of Moroni rests high atop the Cebu City Philippines Temple after it was placed on the second temple in the Philippines on Nov. 5, 2009. Credit: Photo by Edwin Redrino
The statue of Moroni is hoisted high atop the Cebu Philippines Temple.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets members after a meeting in the Philippines during a tour of the island nation. Credit: Photo by Kaye Bay
Cebu City Philippines Temple Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News
Temples, such as the Cebu City Philippines Temple, are houses of learning. Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant
President Thomas S. Monson leaves the Cebu City Philippines Temple after dedicating it in three sessions on Sunday, June 13, 2010. Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News
Cebu City Philippines Temple Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News
The Philippines Missionary Training Center consists of two buildings that provide state-of-the-art training facilities; it can house up to 144 missionaries from the Philippines and other Asian nations. Credit: Philippine Area
Philippines Missionary Training Center. Credit: Philippine Area

About a hundred people gathered with then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley on the grounds of the American War Memorial Cemetery in the Philippines as he rededicated the Philippines for missionary work on the morning of April 28, 1961. The country was part of the Southern Far East Mission of the Church. 

His prayer included “that there shall be many thousands who shall receive this message and be blessed thereby.” 

Now, 60 years later, there are more than 825,000 members in 1,250 congregations, 23 missions and two dedicated temples, with five more temples announced or under construction, across the nation of more than 7,100 islands in the western Pacific Ocean’s Southeast Asia region. The country’s land is roughly the area of Italy or the United States’ Arizona

“The 60 years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines is a celebration of faith,” Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, president of the Philippines Area and a General Authority Seventy, wrote in response to questions from the Church News. “We look back at the faithful pioneers who laid the foundation and look forward to the rising generation to help establish the Church in the Philippines.” 

Missionary work begins

The Church’s roots in the Philippines go back to the late 1890s when two American, Latter-day Saint servicemen, Willard Call and George Seaman, were set apart as missionaries before being deployed to the country during the Spanish-America War. After World War II, Maxine Grimm was in the Philippines with the Red Cross in 1945 and introduced the gospel to Aniceta Pabilona Fajardo, who was the first Filipino to join the Church in the islands.

Meetings for servicemen were organized during the 1950s. On Aug. 21, 1955, President Joseph Fielding Smith at Clark Air Base dedicated the Philippines for the preaching of the gospel.  

After six years, the Church received legal recognition and was allowed to have full-time missionaries enter the country. Elder Hinckley, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rededicated the Philippines for missionary work in 1961.  

At the unveiling in February of a timeline of significant events of the Church in the Philippines, Elder Wakolo mentioned the early Filipino pioneers, including Fajardo.

“I think I know what was in Sister Fajardo’s mind when she accepted the invitation to be baptized in 1945. I think I know what was in Elder Ray Goodson’s and his companions’ mind when they first arrived in Manila in 1961,” he said at the event. “Imagine the joy in Elder Hinckley’s mind when he offered a prayer at the American Cemetery in 1961 when only a handful of members attended and 35 years later when he returned as a Prophet where 35,000 gathered for a devotional.”   

In 1967, the Southern Far East Mission was divided and the Philippines Mission was created. Now there are 23 missions across the islands. The Manila Philippines Temple was announced in 1981 and dedicated in 1984. Now, there are seven temples dedicated, under construction or announced in the Philippines.  

“We know that our Father in Heaven loves all of His children. Those upon the isles of the sea like the Philippines are no exception,” Elder Wakolo told the Church News. “He has blessed us with the introduction of the restored gospel that has touched and improved the lives of Filipino families.”  

Celebrating 60 years 

In addition to the timeline on display in the tunnel leading to the Manila Philippines Temple, a statue depicting the First Vision, when young Joseph Smith prayed and was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, was unveiled at the Philippines Missionary Training Center in Quezon City, Metro Manilla, in May. 

Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, left, General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, with counselors Elder Steven R. Bangerter and Elder Yoon Hwan Choi pose with the timeline of the Church in the Philippines, unveiled in spring 2021 and notes significant events.
Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, left, General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, with counselors Elder Steven R. Bangerter and Elder Yoon Hwan Choi pose with the timeline of the Church in the Philippines, unveiled in spring 2021 and notes significant events. | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Wakolo said he hopes those who visit the First Vision statue can “see beyond the statue that it did happen, it is reality.” 

“We want them to see that the First Vision opened the windows of heaven through a simple desire of a young boy who asked through prayer to know the truth,” he said. “With that question, priesthood keys were restored to bless all of God’s children.” 

Also planned is a “A Celebration of Faith” concert and will be scheduled as conditions allow. A history book and launch, discussions with early members of the Church in the Philippines, an online museum and open houses at various chapels throughout the islands are also being planned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Church in the country. The Church’s Philippines Newsroom site and local social media channels have shared stories and history of the Church.   

“We want them to look back at their rich spiritual heritage to inspire them to help build and establish the Church in the Philippines and to share the message of Christ to others,” Elder Wakolo said. “As our members participate in these 60-year celebratory events we hope they will feel inspired to share the joy of the gospel and the hope the Savior’s life, ministry and atoning sacrifice has brought to the people of the Philippines.” 

A board with photos of those who have served as area president is scheduled to be unveiled, and it includes then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks, now first counselor in the First Presidency, who served as the Philippines Area president from 2002 to 2004 when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

Looking to the future  

“The Church continues to grow at a fast pace because of the faithfulness of members who continue to live their faith and strive hard to stay on the covenant path,” Elder Wakolo said. “As the gospel culture becomes interwoven with the strong traditions of family and Christian values that form the foundation of life in the Philippines, the blessings of self-reliance, education and a life of service to others lifts and builds members of the Church to become leaders and examples among their fellowmen.” 

Elder Wakolo notes how those serving in leadership positions, such as Area Seventies, temple presidencies, stake presidents, bishops and many of the mission leaders, are Filipinos. He’s also seen the value of those who have served as Area Seventies and in temple and mission leadership positions and are now serving their wards and branches.  

Elder Taniela Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, and Sister Anita Wakolo, center left; Elder Steven R. Bangerter, General Authority and first counselor of the Philippines Area, and Sister Susann A. Bangerter; Brig. Gen. Raul S. Cino, chief of Chaplain Service, left; and the Rev. Father Carlos Reyes, minister for ecumenical and interfaith affairs with the Archdiocese of Manila, right, and Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol and presidential assistant on …
Elder Taniela Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy and Philippines Area president, and Sister Anita Wakolo, center left; Elder Steven R. Bangerter, General Authority and first counselor of the Philippines Area, and Sister Susann A. Bangerter; Brig. Gen. Raul S. Cino, chief of Chaplain Service, left; and the Rev. Father Carlos Reyes, minister for ecumenical and interfaith affairs with the Archdiocese of Manila, right, and Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Office of the President; unveil the First Vision statue at the Philippines Missionary Training Center on Friday, May 21. | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The Church will continue to be strengthened locally by these leaders who have gained spiritual experiences as they serve,” he said. “More women are serving in key positions that allow them to train organizations in leaderships and to minister to the needs of others.” 

The area presidency launched the “I Will Go, I Will Serve” campaign on May 16, inviting the youth of the Philippines to plan to serve full-time missions. The goal is to 4,600 Filipino full-time missionaries serving in the Philippines by December 2022. 

Due the COVID-19 pandemic, missionaries returned to their home countries. In the Philippines, that meant 1,700 foreign missionaries left. There are currently 1,900 Filipino missionaries serving in the country and they cover about half of all the wards and branches.  

“Currently, we are working hard to have 4,600 missionaries in order to become self-reliant in preaching the gospel. We now have close to 2,000 Filipino missionaries and it is only a matter of time when we will get there,” Elder Wakolo said. “The pandemic has inspired us to see our potential and be laser focused on it.”  

Church in the Philippines  

There are two dedicated temples in the Philippines in Manila and Cebu City. There are five more that are under construction or announced.
There are two dedicated temples in the Philippines in Manila and Cebu City. There are five more that are under construction or announced. | Credit: Church News graphic

Membership: 825,000 

Stakes: 120 

Districts: 59 

Congregations: 1,250 

Missions: 23 

Temples: 2 operational; 5 under construction or announced 

Source: Philippines Area  

Timeline 

1898: Two American servicemen were set apart as missionaries before being deployed to the Philippines.  

1945: Sister Aniceta Fajardo became the first Filipino who was baptized in the Philippines. 

Aug. 21, 1955: President Joseph Fielding Smith dedicates at Clark Air Base the Philippine Islands for the preaching of the gospel.  

1966: First youth conference in Los Banos, Laguna.  

1961: The Church receives legal registration. On April 28, 1961, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rededicates the Philippines for missionary work.  

The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, where President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the Philippines in 1961.
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, where President Gordon B. Hinckley offered a prayer on the Philippines in 1961. | Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

June 28, 1967: Southern Far East Mission was divided to create the Philippines Mission.  

1973: The first stake is organized.  

July 1, 1974: Philippines Mission divided into the Philippines Cebu Mission and the Philippines Manila Mission.  

April 1, 1981: A temple in the Philippines in announced. The groundbreaking on the Manila Philippines Temple was on Aug. 25, 1982, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on the northern island of Luzon. It was dedicated by President Hinckley on Sept. 25, 1984. 

1983: Missionary training center was established in a rented house in Manila.  

1984: There are 75,000 Latter-day Saints in 15 stakes

1992: A missionary training center was built across from the temple. It’s been expanded in 2011, 2012 and 2017.  

2002-2004: Then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles serves as the area president. 

April 2006: A temple in Cebu City, in the central Visayas group of islands, is announced. The groundbreaking was on Nov. 14, 2007, and the Cebu City Philippines Temples was dedicated on June 13, 2010.  

The creation of the 100th stake in the Philippines was presided over by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Sept. 10, 2010, during a special conference held at the New Frontier Theater (formerly KIA Theater). The first stake in the country was created on May 20, 1973.
The creation of the 100th stake in the Philippines was presided over by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Sept. 10, 2010, during a special conference held at the New Frontier Theater (formerly KIA Theater). The first stake in the country was created on May 20, 1973. | Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

October 2010: The Urdaneta Philippines Temple is announced. The groundbreaking for the temple on the northern island of Luzon was on Jan. 16, 2019.  

April 2017: A temple in Alabang, on the south side of Metro Manila, is announced. The groundbreaking was on June 4, 2020.  

Sept. 10, 2017: The 100th stake in the Philippines is created.

2018: In April, the Cagayan de Oro Philippines Temple on the southern island of Mindanao is announced. In October, a temple is announced on Mindanao in Davao City. The groundbreaking for the Davao Philippines Temple was Nov. 14, 2020.  

October 2019: A temple in Bacolod, Philippines, in the Visayas group of islands, is announced.   

Source: Philippines Newsroom 

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