Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Iglesia Ni Cristo celebration of its centennial at the ‘world’s largest indoor arena’

Note:  This essay appeared in slightly different version in the 25-31 July 2014 issue of FilAm Star, a weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is the paper's special news/photo correspondent based in Manila.

“Central” on Commonwealth Avenue is where students of New Era University and the University of the Philippines get off the bus or FX van when they go to their respective schools.  It actually refers to the nearby Iglesia Ni Cristo [INC] Central Temple, an eye-catching landmark with towering spires in a wide gated compound, the INC Central Office and the New Era University are also found.

When we first saw the billboard announcing the INC Centennial Year in front of the Central Temple, we thought that the July celebrations would be held there.  We imagined a massive gathering of INC members along Commonwealth, bigger than those who attended their charity walks or medical missions that caused traffic to come to a standstill.

Then we heard that the grand celebrations would be held at the colossal structure rising in a wide sprawl along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx).  This is a 140-hectare complex that straddles Bocaue and Sta. Maria of Bulacan province that INC calls Ciudad de Victoria (City of Victory).

For some 30 months since 2011, we saw what would become the Philippine Arena assume its gigantic form: “the world’s largest indoor arena.”  According to the webpage of the architectural designer Populous of Australia, this building “pushe[d] boundaries of arena design ... the vast scale create[d] technical challenges, especially as it is a one-sided bowl.”

Reports say it cost $175 Million or about Php 8.7 billion from contributions of INC members.  Aside from Populous, Burro Happold, a British professional services firm, was contracted for structural engineering, and the Korean firm Hanwha E&C for construction.   That it was designed and built to withstand strong tremors and strong typhoon winds was tested when it escaped unscathed from the strong winds of Typhoon Glenda that hit the area four days before inauguration day

Ticket to the green section of the Arena.
We guessed right that our niece Hilda from Toronto would be coming home for the centennial.  She came home with her young daughter in time for the inauguration of the Ciudad on 21 July, and her husband and son would be arriving for the grand celebration on 27 July.

Hilda briefed us that not all INC members would have the opportunity to attend the programs at the Philippine Arena.  She was lucky, she said, that she got a ticket for the 21 July event. All of them in the family already have their passes for the grand event on the 27th.

She was able to see the guest of honor, President Benigno Simeon A. Aquino III, from her perch at row 49, lower tier-B at the green sector of the Arena, and listen to his words of appreciation to INC, his invocation of love from John 13:34-35 and Matthew 25:40, and his gentle poke at his critics.

Pres. Aquino and INC Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo unveiled the inaugural marker, which bears the latter’s summary account of what the Ciudad is all about. 

“Built and developed by the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) through the New Era University,” Manalo said, “the Ciudad de Victoria Complex is a testament to the Church’s support for the promotion of Philippine culture and arts, sports, and eco-tourism. This multi-purpose complex serves as the venue of the Iglesia Ni Cristo Centennial Celebration and stands as a symbol of its triumphs and achievements through the help of the Almighty God.”

“Its centerpiece, the Philippine Arena, and the adjacent Philippine Sports Stadium, both opened this day. Ciudad de Victoria will also showcase the Philippine Sports Center and other various establishments,” he added. 

Populous said that “[t]he building’s capacity is its challenge. ... the arena has been master planned to enable 50,000 people to gather inside the building and a further 50,000 to gather at a ‘live site’ outside to share in major events.” 

The Philippine Arena colorfully lighted on the eve of the inauguration.

The architectural company further envisioned that “[t]he arena will not only hold major church gatherings, it will also operate as a multi-use sports and concert venue, capable of holding a range of events from boxing and basketball to live music performances. There are clear sightlines from every seat on each tier, even for various arena configurations such as church ceremonies, boxing, tennis, concerts or indoor gymnastics.  The overall vision of the masterplan will eventually see inclusion of shopping centres, a hospital and large scale residential developments.”

The inauguration was “part of the commemoration of the 100th year of the Iglesia ni Cristo’s establishment on July 27, 1914,” the marker read.

Interior shot showing the 55,000-seat structure of the Arena.
The INC history tells us that their first local congregation was established in Punta, Sta. Ana, and it was officially registered with the government on 27 July 1914 by Felix Y. Manalo, the first Executive Minister.  When he passed away in April 1963, INC had already ecclesiastical districts all over the country. The first overseas mission was established in Hawaii – the Honolulu Congregation, with the first worship service officiated on 27 July 1968 by Bro. Erano F. Manalo, the Executive Minister at that time. That was the start of the worldwide expansion of the church.

In his Proclamation No. 815, Pres. Aquino acknowledged that the INC is “the the largest home-grown Christian church in the Philippines ... [it] has made significant contributions in bringing spiritual maturity, spreading the love of Christ and nurturing the religious life of the nation since 1914 ... [and it] has spread its ministry in at least one hundred two (102) countries, hence its centennial celebration is a worldwide event.”   He declared Year 2014 as Iglesia ni Cristo Centennial Year through this proclamation “in order to enhance awareness of [INC’s] contributions in national development.”

It must be noted that 27 July every year has been a special national working holiday as provided by Republic Act No. 9645, the short title of which is “Commemoration of the Founding Anniversary of Iglesia ni Cristo Act”, after it was signed by then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009. 

It became a special non-working holiday when President Aquino approved Joint Resolution No. 2 of Congress declaring 27 July this year as such to commemorate the 100th founding anniversary of the church.

Every Filipino is aware that the INC has become a significant part of Philippine social and political life. Politicians are said to seek INC endorsement during elections because the popular belief is that they choose candidates to support as a bloc during elections.  But there should be more than this.  Executive Minister Manalo said the Arena would also be open for use by Filipinos of other faiths and even by international groups or communities for international gatherings and events.  Thus, hopefully, with Ciudad de Victoria’s Philippine structures – Arena, Stadium, Sports Center – being open also people of other religious faiths, better socio-cultural relationships will be fostered, and prejudices and urban folklore with religious undercurrents deconstructed. 

The Iglesia Ni Cristo Central Temple along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.

Postscript:  Carlos Antonio Santos-Viola, classmate of National Artist for Architecture Jose Maria Zaragoza, designed and built the Iglesia Ni Cristo Central Temple and other INC churches all over the country.  He evolved the unique architectural design that uses 20th Century geometric forms and garnished with Gothic and Baroque lines. He remained a Roman Catholic while working in harmony with the Iglesia Ni Cristo. 

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