The First Filipino Bishop

By | April 25, 2021
first filipino bishop
The First Filipino Bishop | @NHCPOfficial via Museo ni Jesse Robredo

Remembering Jorge Barlin: The First Filipino Bishop

Jorge Barlin was born on 23 April 1850 in Baao, Camarines Sur to Mateo Alfonso Barlin and Francisca Imperial. He entered the Seminario Conciliar de Nueva Caceres in 1862 and was ordained a priest in 1875. It had just been three years since the Gomburza were executed, and it was a time when native priests were discriminated and persecuted if they sought reform.

Thanks to Barlin’s brilliance, he became a protégé of Bishop Francisco Gainza, O.P. who appointed him as capellan de solio and mayordomo of the Cathedral.

Unfortunately, Gainza died in 1879 and was replaced by Fray Casimiro Herrero, O.S.A. who disliked indio priests. He sent Barlin to Siruma, Camarines Sur in 1880 and to Libog, Albay in 1883.

Barlin accepted his remote assignments without a grudge and administered them faithfully. This was noticed by the next Bishop, Arsenio del Campo y Monasterio, O.S.A. who appointed him in 1887 to the town of Sorsogon. It became the capital of a new province of the same name in 1894, and Barlin became its vicario foraneo or provincial spiritual administrator.

The Philippine Revolution reached the shores of Sorsogon in 1898. On 20 September, before the Spanish community escaped, Governor Leandro Villamil left the finances and documents of the provincial government to his care. For this event, the Provincial Government of Sorsogon recognizes Barlin as its first Filipino governor.

Barlin maintained good relations with whoever was in power – be it the Filipino revolutionary government or the Americans – to ensure the peace of the parishes under his care.

When the Philippine Independent Church was proclaimed in 1902, Barlin was invited to lead it in the hopes of bringing with him the parishes in Bicol. However, he remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Church.

For his loyalty and excellence in administration, he received the title of Monsignor. Upon the resignation of Bishop Campos in 1903, he was designated apostolic administrator of the Diocese.

This was a sign of things to come. On 14 December 1905, he was appointed as Bishop of Nueva Caceres. He was consecrated as bishop by Archbishop Ambrose Agius, O.S.B., Apostolic Delegate to the Philippines, on 29 June 1906 during the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Sorsogon town. Manila Archbishop Jeremiah James Harty and Jaro Bishop Frederick Zadok Rooker were co-consecrators.

In 1906, Jorge Barlin was elevated as Roman Catholic Bishop of Nueva Caceres – the first Filipino to be entrusted with such honor. It is a milestone in a long struggle for equality within the most influential social institution in the country.

In celebration of his 171st birth anniversary, this online exhibit highlights Bishop Jorge Barlin’s life and his legacy in the history of Christianity in the Philippines through monuments built in his honor. This is also in solidarity with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines and the upcoming 150th death anniversary of the Gomburza.

In 1909, Barlin visited Rome, Italy for his first ad limina visit to the Pope, becoming the first native Filipino diocesan bishop to set foot at the Vatican City. Unfortunately, he fell ill and died on 4 September 1909. He was buried at the mausoleum in the Catholic Cemetery of Campo Verano in Rome. Unfortunately, his exact tomb could not be located, frustrating attempts to bring his mortal remains home.

In Barlin’s honor, a full-sized statue was built in the plaza of his hometown. It was declared a National Monument by the National Historical Institute, and a marker was unveiled on 23 April 1988 to mark his 138th birth anniversary.

Filipinos found in Barlin a symbol of their ability for self-governance – spiritual and secular. For this, he was invited to deliver the invocation during the inauguration of the Philippine Assembly on 16 October 1907.

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