If you’re in the mood for an Oriental feast – may it be food, culture, arts or, yes, the men – then Binondo is the place for you this Holy Week season. And while it may not be on top of your list, it may be a good place for you and your friends to meet someone who is in touch with their inner faith. And… who knows, you might just find your next significant other within the area of Binondo.
Located at the heart of the famous Chinatown in Manila is the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, also known as Binondo Church. It was built during the mid-1590s by the Dominican priests, to mainly cater to their Chinese converts to Christianity.
Even before the Spanish occupation, there was already a number of Chinese community members and traders in the Philippines, with the majority of them most notably present in Binondo. And when the Spaniards colonized the Philippines, the number of the Chinese people flocking to the country increased because of the substantial need to barter and trade.
The Domincans felt the need to convert the Chinese community to the Christian faith – hence, the building of the Binondo Church was commissioned.
Throughout the years, the original structure of Binondo Church was torn down a few times during the Chinese revolution in the early 1600s. And during the 1760s the original building of the church was destroyed because of the continuous bombing during the war. The present granite structure was completed during the 1850s, but the only thing that was left today of the 16th century structure is the Chinese inspired five-story bell tower.
It was once again destroyed when it was burned during the British invasion of 1872, the re-building of the Church was finished quickly after the occupation. But due to a natural disaster, the structure was once again destroyed by an earthquake in the early 1860s. It was rebuilt once again, and the structure is the one we see today.
And then again during the American occupation, the church was also affected, when most of the interiors and its archives were destroyed and burned. The only thing that was left standing was its shell – the stone walls that hold the majestic design of the Church. The Chinese community in Binondo endured a roofless church for several years, until it was finally restored during the 1950s. Throughout the years, the church and the convent were continuously renovated. And even today, the Chinese community has been funding the renovations and maintenance the church.
“For the longest time, the Chinese community has been taking care of the church. And just like most of the Catholic community, they have been very active in all our projects and celebrations. Every day, before they go to their respective businesses or to their work, they pass by Binondo Church to attend mass or to pray for a few minutes,” Leonida Recto Aranda, planning and formation chairperson of the Basilica Pastoral Council of Binondo, Manila.
A notable change and improvement of the Church from its original structure is its interior. The ceiling is entirely covered with massive detailed religious paintings – from the mysteries of the Holy Rosary to some of the famous stories lifted from the Bible like the stations of the cross.
The grand altar on the other hand holds a number of patron saints – this was done mainly to cover the damages the church suffered throughout the years. And as a result, it gave an added beauty to the magnificent structure of the altar. The Statue of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary is also seen in the middle of the grand altar, being one of the patrons of the Binondo Church. On the left side of the altar stands the image of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the patron saint of Binondo Church – he was a missionary born to a Chinese father and a Filipina mother, and was executed in Japan for being a Christian; he was the first Filipino saint.
“Every feast of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary and San Lorenzo Ruiz, we bring the two patrons out for a procession, and we hold activities for the parishioners so that they can not only pray to them, but they will also get to know them. It is through education that people will nurture their faith and their belief in the religion. People from different areas of Manila go to Binondo Church to pray for our patrons,” Aranda said.
Think disco, but every time there’s a Mass, all the lights inside are turned on – you will see the beauty of the interior and the structure of the old sophisticated columns.
On any given day, the church is open to give way to the Chinese-Filipino community to attend mass before they go to their respective businesses and work.
“This is not only a church for the Chinese community, most people think that Binondo Church is for them only. No, that’s not true. They might have the perception that because most of the parishioners they see are Chinese, this church is only for the Chinese community. This is a church for everyone, in fact, the Chinese community encourages other people to attend the regular celebrations of our church to be part of our thanksgiving,” Aranda said.
This only proves that the church can not only make anyone’s faith stronger but also make the ties between two different cultures, that is the Chinese and Filipino communities, deeper and more meaningful.