Compared to the modern architecture styles of all the churches of the Cubao and New Manila districts of Quezon City, the Our Lady of Victories Church stands out with its pueblo missionary / neo-Baroque style that is placed atop an elevation of adobe bricks. The church is located at the corner of Cannon and Betty Go-Belmonte streets, either a 650 meter walk from the corner of Betty Go-Belmonte Street and Aurora Boulevard, or 300 meters from the E. Rodriguez Sr. Boulevard corner; the church is administered by the Society of Saint Pius X, and is dedicated to Our Lady of Victory (also called Our Lady of the Rosary), and incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary patron of the triumphs of the 1213 Battle of Muret and the 1571 Battle of Lepanto.
What is interesting about the Our Lady of Victories Church and the Society of Saint Pius X (Latin: Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Pii X or SSPX) is that they do declare themselves as a Catholic order, but have been excommunicated by the papacy since 1988. The SPPX was started by the French Archbishop Marcel François Marie Joseph Lefebvre (1905-1991) in Rome in 1968, as a small community that was interested in holding the classic Tridentine Latin Mass, which halted after the 1963 Second Vatican Council and the 1964 Inter Oecumenici that ordered of the conducting masses in the local languages (also known as the Novus Ordo Missae). The SPPX was named after Pope Pius X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914), who was known to be against the modernism of the Catholic Church, and adhered to the old traditions.
Although holding the mass in the Latin language and rites was not a major act against papa orders, this caused much tension between the SPPX and the Vatican, including Archbishop Lefebvre’s attempts to get the SPPX to receive a pia unio, or formal recognition of the organization as an official Catholic institute since its formal founding in Switzerland, in 1970. Tensions continued with Archbishop Lefebvre’s insistence of ordaining several priests of the SSPX in 1976, without an official approval of the Vatican. Because of this, Lefebvre was suspended from performing the sacraments, with an ab ordinum collation and a divinis order from the pope. This conflict came to a climax, when Lefebvre consecrated four bishops of the SSPX, as a means to an SSPX successor upon his death. Lefebvre acted once more without the approval of Rome, and in 1988, Pope John Paul II (born Karol Józef Wojtyła, 1920-2005) issued a ferendae sententiae excommunicating Lefebvre and the four SSPX bishops.
Despite the earlier suppressions and the excommunication, the SSPX had already grown worldwide, with seminaries in Germany, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America. And right after the excommunication, a certain Atty. Teodoro Ravago Dominguez (1914-20006) wrote Archbishop Lefebvre, showing his support and requesting for an SSPX mission in the Philippines. And in the same year, Fr. Patrice Laroche (born 1956), now Vice-Rector of the Swiss Seminary of Ecône, visited in the Philippines, to observe the possibility to opening an SSPX center and build networks. Fr. Laroche was in-charge of the Asian ministry of the SSPX, and had opened the first mission in Sri Lanka in 1984, and followed with India in 1986.
From 1898 to 1991, more members of the SSPX would visit the Philippines, to establish a missionary network. Among them were the English Bishop Richard Nelson Williamson (born 1940), the Swiss bishop and current Superior General of SSPX Bernard Fellay (born 1958), the Argentinian Fr. Ruben Horatio Gentili, and the current District Superior of Asia Fr. François Laisney. And in 1992, the mission officially started with the arrival the English priests Paul Morgan (born 1964) and Stephen Abraham, who set up the Corpus Christi chapel at the corner of Banawe and Kabignayan streets, Quezon City.
Despite warnings of the Catholic Cardinal Jaime Lachica Sin (1928-2005), the SSPX missions continued to grow from a 50 man Quezon city Ignatian Retreat in 1992 to missions, chapels and priories in the towns and cities of Baguio, Tanay, Maniboc, Mangaldan, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, Koronadal, Butuan, General Santos, Jaro, Santa Barbara, Ilolilo, Mambusao, Bacolod City, Mandaue, Bato, Sogod, Maasin, Tacloban, Dagohoy, Tagbilaran, and San Miguel Bohol. These missions were strengthened with the arrival of the Belgian Fr. Roland de Mérode, the French Fr. Arnaud Rostand, the American Fr. Paul Carr, the American Fr. Thomas Blute, the Japanese Fr. Thomas Onodo, the German Fr. Franz Schmidberger (born 1946), and the Spanish-Argentine Bishop Alfonso de Galarreta Genua (born 1957). Using the Philippines as a center point of activity, the of SSPX priests would travel to missions in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Balikpapan, Kuching, Jakarta, Seoul and Osaka to found the District of Asia in 1996, with its present St. Pius X Priory and offices in Singapore.
In 1993, the SSPX was able to purchase the land in New Mania, which would be the site of the Our Lady of Victories Church and Priory, as well as the St. Bernard’s pre-seminary. Lack of funds delayed the construction of the Our Lady of Victories, to the opening of the priory in 1996. With the opening of Our Lady of Victories Priory, Manila became the first seat of the District of Asia, with the Canadian Fr. Daniel Couture as the first District Superior. On the next year, the House of Bethany was established in Jaro, Iloilo, for the young women who wish to serve God, along with the opening and consecration of the Our Lady of Victories Church by Bishop Fellay and the founding of the youth group Apostles of Mary by the French Fr. Marc Vernoy in Cebu.
The first diocesan priest to sympathize with the SSPX was the Dominican Rev. Fr. Manuel Piñon (1924-1997) of the University of Santo Tomas, who defended the SSPX against the attacks of Cardinal Sin. Around the same time, the retired Mgr. Salvador Lazo Lazo (1918-2000), Bishop Emeritus of San Fernando, La Union, joined the SSPX and gave masses in Latin at the Our Lady of Victories Church. Bishop Lazo was later joined by Fr. Santiago P. Hughes (1940-2004) from the Diocese of Antipolo and Fr. Edgardo Suelo (1942-2016) from the Diocese of Laguna, who found the traditional teaching more appealing. This was also the same reason for the four sisters of different congregations to join the SSPX, and form the House of Bethany.
In 1999 the first Filipino SSPX priests were ordained, with Fr. Joven Soliman in Manila, and Fr. Emerson Salvador in Écône, Switzerland. On that same year, the District of Asia transferred its seat to Singapore. And in 2004 a primary school was conducted at the basement of Our Lady of Victories Church, which would lead to the eventual founding of the Our Lady of Victories Catholic School, in 2009.
Over the years, the SSPX community has continually grown throughout the Philippines. To continue its teaching among the congregation many lay organizations have been formed. Among these are two organizations for men, the Knights of Our Lady and the Holy Name Society. There is also the youth group for boys, the Cristeros of Manila, and the mixed group of the Apostles of Mary. There is also an organization of altar servers named the Archconfraternity of St. Stephen.
In 2007, to bring forth reconciliation between the Vatican and the SSPX, Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, born 1927) decreed the Summorum Pontificum, which allowed priests to say the mass in Latin without having to ask permission from Rome and its representatives. Then in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared the remission of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated in 1988: Alfonso de Galarreta Genua (born 1957), Bernard Fellay (born 1958), Bernard Tissier de Mallerais (born 1945), and Richard Nelson Williamson (born 1940). However, Bishop Williamson’s “pardon” was revoke later on, due to his views on reuniting with the Vatican, as well as other more controversial opinions; and he has since left the SSPX to join a splinter group.
It is hard to judge either Bishop Williamson’s “rebellious” nature, as that is the core of the SSPX’s formation; to break from the Church’s decree of modernization and adhere to traditions is what its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, had taught, as well as their patron saint Pope Pius X. And symbolisms of that break from Church modernist dogma can be surmised in some the icons placed all around the Our Lady of Victories Church, including the santos at the retablo (altarpiece), which was carved by the former newsman turned sculptor, Gener Cortez Bautista (born 1948).
At the altar’s main retablo, the left most icon is that of Pope Pius X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, 1835-1914), the Italian patron saint of the SSPX, whose adherence to Church traditions inspired the congregation. Next is may be the image of Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373 AD), the Egyptian bishop of Alexandria. At the center of the retablo is the traditional Crucifix, with right above is the image of Our Lady of Victories/ Our Lady of the Rosary as the patron of the church. The Crucifix is followed by the icon of Santo Domingo Félix de Guzmán (1170-1221), the Spanish founder of the Dominican Order, and propagator of the tradition of the Rosary. Finally at the far right is Saint Lucia of Syracuse (283–304), the early Christian Martyr, who is the patron saint martyrs and the province of Pampanga.
There are also side altars with saints, such as the altar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the left of the retablo. At the right is the altar of Saint Joseph.
Just as the SSPX had strived to continue professing their belief in traditions, despite the suppression of the Vatican, the symbolism of martyrdom and great sacrifice for one’s faith are noticeable with some of the santos that are stationed around the church. Among these is the icon of Santa Philomena (291-304 AD), the early Greek Christian martyr and patron saint of youth, and the municipalities of Sibonga in Cebu and Pulupandan in Negros Occidental. Another image is that of Santa Teresa de Ávila (born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, 1515-1582), the Spanish Carmelite mystic and theologian; who is the patron saint of people ridiculed for their piety, as well as the City of Talisay City, in Cebu. Then there is Santa Rita de Cascia (born Margherita Lotti, 1381-1457), the Italian Augustinian stigmata bearer, who breaking away from an abusive marriage to join the order has made her the patron saint of married women. And finally there is San Giuseppe da Cupertino (Giuseppe Maria Desa, 1603-1663), Italian Franciscan mystic and patron saint of aviators and students, who was persecuted during the Inquisition for his mystical experiences were suspected as acts of witchcraft.
The separation of SSPX from the Vatican is also reflected in some of the icons in the church, such as the image of St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547 AD), the Italian founder of the Benedictine Order. Another saint embroiled in Church separation is San Vincente Ferrer (1350-1419), the Spanish Dominican patron saint of construction workers, who was integral in the Western Schism (1378–1418) between Clement VII in Avignon in France and Pope Urban VI in Rome. And finally there is the visage of San Juan de la Cruz (Juan de Yepes y Álvarez 1541-1591), the Spanish Carmelite doctor of the church and patron saint of mystical theology, who was active in the Counter –Reformation against the Protestant churches breaking from the Catholic faith.
There are also the santos that the SSPX look up to protect and guide them in their missions, especially to the Archangel, San Miguel (Saint Michael), the guardian of the Catholic Church. The next would be the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patroness of the Carmelite Order in the Holy Land, whose apparition in July 16, 1251, inspired the missionaries and crusaders to continue to repel the Moorish invaders of the Holy Land. And then there is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the miraculous 15th century Byzantine icon at the Chiesa di Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino in Rome, to whom many Filipinos are devotees, especially at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran Parañaque City.
Then there are the popular saints among the Filipino congregation, such as San Lorenzo Ruiz (1600-1637), the first Filipino saint and co-patron of the Philippines. Then there is St. Peter, the first pope; who is also the patron saint of the towns of San Pedro in Laguna, Apalit in Pampanga, Calatrava in Negros Occidental, Calauag in Quezon, Calbayog in Samar, and Davao City. Next is San Antonio de Padua (Fernando Martins de Bulhões, 1195-1231), the Portuguese Franciscan; who is the patron saint of lost items, as well as the municipalities of Tuburan in Cebu, Pila in Laguna, Taytay in Rizal and the town of Iriga and Camaligan in Camarines Sur. There is a copy of the historical Santo Niño de Cebú, or Christ Child based on the 1555 Niño Jesús de Praga, which was brought to the Philippine archipelago in 1521, by the Portuguese explorer, Fernão de Magalhães (1480-1521). Finally there is the Dead Nazarene, depicting Jesus laid in the tomb, as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
Lastly, there are the images of St. Philip the Apostle and the Our Lady of the Rosary, also known as Our Lady of Victory, who is credited with the miraculous victories of the faithful in the 1213 Battle of Muret and the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, as well as the 1646 defeat of the invading Dutch fleet in the battle of Manila bay by a combined Spanish and indio (Filipino) forces under the protection of the Great Lady of the Philippines, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary- La Naval de Manila.
An interesting detail in the Our Lady of Victories Church is the sanctuary door that leads from the chancel to the priest’s quarters. Instead the images of the four evangelists of John, Luke, Mark and Matthew are the four major prophets of the Bible’s Old Testament: Ézéchiel (Ezekiel), Daniel, Jeremías (Jeremiah), and Isaías (Isaiah) in their Latin names. The use of the prophets as icons is most likely to be featured in a Russian/Greek Orthodox church, instead of a Catholic temple.
For decades the Our Lady of Victories Church was the largest SSPX church in Asia, and the center of much of the major events in the order. However, by the 2000s there was a boom in the converts to the SPPX throughout the Philippine provinces. This started with the 1998 opening of the House of Bethany in Jaro of Iloilo, and the 1999 establishment of the St. Bernard Novitiate in Santa Barbara, Iloilo City. This was later followed by the founding of the Saint Anthony’s Mission in La Trinidad of the Benguet Province, the Pangasinan Province’s the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Mission in Maniboc in Lingayen and St. Therese’s Mission in Mangaldan, and the 2011 Saint Joseph Priory, in Buhangin, Davao City.
The SSPX missions were also constructing many chapels throughout the country, often as very simple structures. Among these early 2000s chapels were the Baguio SSPX Mission Chapel in La Trinidad of Benguet, the Our Lady Help of Christian Chapel in Cagayan de Oro City of Misamis Oriental, the Sta. Lucia Chapel in Butuan City of Agusan Del Norte, the Chapel of Saint James in General Santos City of South Cotabato, the St. Anthony’s Chapel in Balit Mambusao of Capiz, the Immaculada Conception Church in Bacolod City of Negros Occidental, the Leyet Province’s St. Joseph Chapel in Bato and Holy Family Chapel in Tacloban City, and the Southern Leyte’s San Isidro Labrador Chapel in Sogod and Holy Rosary Chapel in Maasin City, and the Bohol Province’s St. Joseph’s Chapel in Dagohoy, St. Anthony Chapel in Tagbilaran City, and St. Michael’s Chapel in San Miguel. Yet with the growing population, larger and more ornate chapels started being constructed; such as the 2004 Our Lady of Consolation and St. Joseph’s Church in Iioilo City, the 2004 St. Pius V Chapel in Mandaue City, the 2016 St. Michael’s Chapel in Koronadal City, the 2016 St. Philomena Chapel in the Municipality of Tanay, and the 2016 Our Lady of Rosa Mystica and St. Joseph Church in General Santos City. And finally the St. Bernard Novitiate Church was completed in 2017, making this the largest SSPX church in Asia.
With the many Catholic orders throughout the Philippines, one may wonder how the “black sheep” SSPX can grow quite exponentially in the Philippines. Maybe it is the experience of Tridentine Latin Mass with Gregorian Chants that make their worship more meaningful? Or it is the strong conservative catechistic communities the SSPX nurtures? Whatever the reason, the SSPX cannot be dismissed as a Catholic “prodigal son,” with much to discover and learn from these “defiant” men of the cloth.
Some photographs from SSPX District of Asia