THE FRANCISCANS AND THE CARE OF THE SICK
“The Church in the
was rich in work of mercy and all kinds of institutions of charity. Long before
that unbridle thirst for material pleasure and joys, which today eats our society, had spread, even before then, there was
scarcely a Catholic of average means who did not care to perpetuate his memory
after his death by leaving some pious legacy for the satisfaction somehow of the many needs of his equals. The Philippines and Manila,
its capital city especially, could boast of being one of the cities in the world better provided with all kinds of charitable
institutions: Hospital, orphanages, asylums, leprosaria, etc.. No material or spiritual needs was hidden to the generous charity of these people, Christians in heart
and soul” (Tamayo, Serapio, O.P. Idea General de la Disciplina Eclesiastica Durante la Dominicion Espaņola, Manila,
1960, pp. 99-100).
The Franciscans easily stand
as the pioneers of such works of mercy and are surpassed by none in the numbers of institutions under their care.
The first hospital ever to
exist in the Philippines, and perhaps even in the entire Far
East, were open by the Franciscans shortly after their arrival in Manila
in 1578. carried by a deep understanding of the needs of the people and moved
by a clear awareness that charity is the touch-stone of every sincere apostolic enterprise. They set hospital in the main
cities and infirmaries wherever there was a Franciscan convent in order to be able to cure the bodies as well as soul of the
natives. Side by side with the hospitals and infirmaries, they open boticas, the
first drug stores in this part of the world.
Fernandes, O.P., “History of the Church in the Philippines,” Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas 44, 1970,
These effort of the Franciscan
are the more remarkable if we consider that “the first hospital in the English colonies was Pennsylvania
Hospital, incorporated in 1751, while by the beginning of the 17th century,
Manila had four hospitals, according to Morga.
Cavanna y Manso, C.M. Rizal and the Philippines of His Days, p. 175).
“While in America,
Massachussets opened its first general hospital in 1811, and Boston had no hospital for general diseases until late in the
19th century, here in the Philippines, under the “despotism” of the friars, we had hospitals not only
in Manila but in our far away provinces” (Ibid.,p.177).
THE FRANCISCANS AND THEIR CARE FOR THE POOR AND THE SICK (1579)
All social services-schools,
hospitals, orphanages – were left by common consent to the initiative and responsibility of the church porter of the
Franciscan convent of Manila, a lay brother named
Fray Juan Clemente, where practice of caring for the sick who knocked at the convent door led to the foundation of
the colony’s first hospital.
The number of people to be
fed and to be cured of their ailments increased to such an extent that the vestibule of the convent came to be filled to capacity,
since there was other suitable place. And as the fame of his cures spread, the
press of these seeking them became necessary… to erect in the patio or outer court of the convent a long shed or shelter
of bamboo roofed with paralysis, running sores and leprosy of every nation, Christian and non-Christian, could be taken care
of. For the charity of our Fray Juan Clemente extended not only to the natives of this country but to strangers from Siam,
the Malabar coast, China, Japan, the Malay peninsula and Borneo; to all these sick he applied the remedies, with which heaven
inspired an unschooled lay brother, where knowledge of the most effective medicaments was derived from the assiduous practice
Sometimes later he decided
to enlarge his hospital, though without losing sight of it from his porter’s lodge.
There was a piece of land adjoining (and it is where the fathers of St. John of God now have their infirmary) which
was just what Fray Juan Clemente wanted because it was public land and so close… It was marshy and water logged…
but in spite of that in less than a year he managed to construct two wings of a wooden building, each fifty paces in length,
with four rows of beds for patients suffering from every kind of ailment, and
smaller wards set apart for women patients, with the usual offices and a large remarkably well stocked pharmacy … it
had when finished more that two hundred beds for men and women patients, both natives of these islands and foreigners …
And was thus Manila’s general hospital, open to all.
in the Philippine History, by H. de la Costa, SJ, pp. 32-33; Makati, Rizal, Philippines.
SAN LAZARO HOSPITAL
ONE LEPROSARIUM worth mentioning
because of its brilliant history through the centuries is that of San Lazaro. Here
as in so many other works of charity, the Franciscans took the land. As we have
already said, it began in 1578, near the door of the convent of San Francisco. In 1632, the Emperor of Japan expelled 130 poor lepers criminally guilty because they
were Christians. Their arrival in the Philippines
won the compassion of the Franciscans and the attention of the government. The
former sheltered them in a house they had built in Dilao (Paco) right after the
destruction of their building in Intramuros during the earthquake of 1603. The
secular government aided them with generous alms. Year later, Coucuera removed
the Franciscans from the administration of this institution of charity. But the king, in answer to their justified complaints, restored them in 1641.
A decree signed by Governor
Basco in 1784 and approved by the King in 1785 transferred the leprosarium to Mayhaligue, the site it now occupies in Rizal
Avenue. In succeeding years, this institution had
to pass through difficult periods due to lack of funds. The building was not
sufficient and the hacienda, mismanaged, did not provide enough to support the sick.
From these straits, the energetic Fr. Felix Huerta came in 1859 to rescue the hospital.
He improved the building and rectified the administration, so much so that by the end of the nineteenth century, San
Lazaro was well-established and had adequeate means of support. This was the
situation when the Archbishop of Manila, who had succeeded to the Spanish Government as Patron of the Hospital removed it
from the administration of the Franciscans in 1907 and ceded it to the American government which, in exchange, had given
up its pretensions to the other pious foundation.” (Fernandez, Pablo, OP, , The Church
in the History of the Philippines,” Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas 44, 1970, p. 655.
Outside the walls of this
city is the hospital of San Lazaro, in
charge of this are the discalced religious men of St. Francis, for contagious diseases. This is annually assisted from this royal treasury, in accordance with the royal decree of January 22, 1672, with 787 pesos, including the cost of 1,500 laying hens, 200 blankets, and
1,500 cavans of rice; and one barrel of wine for celebration of the holy
sacrifice of the mass.
Francisco Rodriguez de Berdozido, “The Eclesiastical Estate in the Aforesaid
Philippine Islands,” Manila, 1724. See the Philippine Islands, by the Blair and Robertson, vol. XLVII, p. 137).
“Outside the walls
of Manila is another hospital, with the name of San Lazaro, in which are gathered all these who are stricken by the contagious
disease of same name; it is administered and cared for by the religious of our holy father St. Francis, and his Majesty has
assigned to it, by virtue of a royal decree of January 22, 1672, a contribution of 1,187 pesos 4 reals every year –
500 pesos in cash, paid from the royal treasury; the rest is the estimated value of 1,500 fowls, 200 light Ilocos blankets,
and one barrel of Castillan wine for the the holy sacrifice of the mass.” (Juan Maldonado de Puga, Religiosa Hospitalidad por los Hijos de San Juan de Dios en Filipinas,
Granada 1742. See the Philippine Islands, etc., vol. XLVII, p.227