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 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.
“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
Temples: 2 operational; 5 under construction or announced
Source: Philippines Area
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.
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.
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