Sunday, November 20, 2016


Take a good look at the picture above. That's the seal of the parish of Garapan in Saipan during Spanish times. This stamp is on a document from the late 1800s.

It says "Parish of San Isidro of Garapan." It doesn't say "Church of." The Spaniards had a custom of sometimes (not always) having one patron for the parish or town, and another patron of the church building.

That's why Hågat has two fiestas; Mt Carmel is patroness of the church building and Santa Rosa is patroness of the village. In Malesso', San Dimas is patron of the village and Our Lady of the Rosary is patroness of the church building. It's all but forgotten now but, in Hagåtña, Dulce Nombre de Maria is patroness of the church building and San Ignacio is patron of the city.

In Saipan, there was, for the longest time, only one town or village and that was Garapan. Tanapag was not settled as a village until the Carolinians from Tinian moved to Saipan around 1887 or so. Thus, from 1815, when human settlement of Saipan resumed, there was only one village on Saipan. The Spanish missionaries made San Isidro patron of Garapan. But, in time, the church building itself acquired its own patroness, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

So why is Garapan known today as the parish of Kristo Rai, or Christ the King?

This is where knowledge of world events in 1925 help us answer that question.

Pius XI was the Pope at the time and he was seeing the world of his childhood quickly fall apart. World War I was over and the world would never be the same. By 1918, the German Kaiser was no more. The Russian Czar was no more. The Austrian Emperor was no more. Kings were losing their thrones left and right!

In the place of kings, some countries became democratic, but this was not a fruitful solution in all cases. In some of these democratic countries, economic crises lead to political chaos, with governments changing every 2 or 3 years in some cases.

In some countries, some were successful in installing dictatorships, as the communists did in Russia and the fascists in Italy. These dictatorships were outright atheist or, at least, unfriendly towards religion.


So Pope Pius XI created a new feast for the church calendar in 1925, the feast of Christ the King. It was his way of reminding everyone, at a time people were getting rid of kings, that there was one King they could not get rid of.

Christ the King became a rallying cry in the defense of the Church. In Mexico, where the government was anti-Catholic, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!" or "Long live Christ the King!" became the slogan of the Catholic forces and the last words, many times, of Catholics shot dead by the Mexican military.


In Saipan, as well as the entire Northern Marianas, a new government ruled over the Catholic Chamorros and Carolinians since 1914. The new rulers were not Christian. In the beginning, the Japanese government respected the Catholic missionaries in Saipan and Luta and allowed them to work unimpeded. The Japanese even allowed Spanish sisters, the Mercedarians, to begin work in Saipan in 1928, something not even the Christian American government would allow down in Guam.

But the Spanish Jesuits, who were in charge of the Catholic mission in the Northern Marianas, were ever so careful. They knew that there were always threats to the Catholic identity of the local people, whether those threats were manifest or not. The mere fact that the government was not Catholic and represented a world so vastly different from western Christianity was enough to cause the Spanish missionaries concern.

Well, the feast of Christ the King was a good way to reinforce the idea in the Catholic people of Saipan that they had only one true King, Christ the King, and not the Emperor of Japan.

I believe that is why the Jesuit missionaries of Saipan started to invoke Christ the King as the patron of Garapan's church.

All of this can also be seen in the lyrics of the Chamorro hymn to Christ the King.


In the Chamorro hymn, composed in the 1920s to go along with the new feast, the message is clear. The people have but one, supreme allegiance and it is to Christ the King.

Here are a few lines that show it.

Siempre gi tano'-måme hågo un fan månda
(Always in our land You will rule)

Mungnga umotro dueño, mungnga mungnga!
(Don't fall under another owner/ruler/master, no no!)

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