Malate Church has first Filipino parish priest

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MALATE, Manila, July 21, 2014 — After 426 years since it was built, the historic Malate Catholic Church (Our Lady of Remedies Parish) finally has a Filipino parish priest in the person of Columban priest Fr. Leonito “Leo” Distor.

The writer (R) with Fr. Kevin McHugh (C) and Fr. Leo Distor (L), the first Filipino Columban parish priest of the Our Lady of Remedies Parish in Malate, Manila (Photo: Bong Fabe)

Installed on May 1, 2014, Koronadal-native Distor became the very first Filipino priest of the Malate parish, replacing Fr. John Leydon.

“I am quite happy to be part of this bigger picture of our mission in the Philippines. It just happened that I was the one who was able to take this. I am very delighted. I am happy to be part of our [Society’s] dream,” he told CBCPNews.

It has been the desire of the Society of St. Columban to turn over churches under its care to Columban Filipino priests. And its first church in the Philippines — the Malate Catholic Church — is now under a Filipino, a native of Mindanao at that.

But Distor is also very aware of the adjustments he needs to make having spent the majority of his priesthood abroad and even with his formation years away from his own community.

The Malate Church is also Distor’s first formal assignment in the Philippines as one having served abroad as a missionary priest, although he served for a little while in Malabang, Lanao del Sur under the Prelature of Marawi, working with such Irish Columban inter-religious luminaries in Mindanao as Fr. Rufus Halley and Fr. Desmond Hartford.

While the Malate Church was established by the Augustinians on September 8, 1588, it was turned over to the Columbans in 1929, the year the order came to the Philippines 11 years after its founding.

It is also the oldest parish run by the Society of St. Columban in the Philippines.

The Malate Catholic Church has the distinction of being the oldest of the 17 churches with Nuestra Señora de los Remedios as patron. Its image of the the Virgen de los Remedios was brought from Spain to Malate by Friar Juan de Guevara, OSA, in 1624.

Through the centuries, the Malate Church has been a silent witness to Philippine history having survived the Chinese invasion of 1662, the British occupation of the church in 1762, the Great Earthquake of 1863, and the World War II bombings in February 1945 during the liberation of Manila.

The installation of Fr. Leo as parish priest of Malate also makes the church the base of operations of the Society of St. Columban in the Philippines. (Bong D. Fabe)

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