Gems of History

Salazar christianizes the Chinese in Manila

In Manila Chinatown, two streets are named after 16th century Spanish priests: Salazar Street after Domingo de Salazar and Benavides Street after Miguel de Benavides.
Benavides Street is perpendicular to Salazar Street, which in turn is perpendicular to Ongpin Street.
The two streets were named after Salazar and Benavides who were pioneers in the Christianization of the early Chinese in the Philippines. This article will focus more about Salazar.
Salazar came to the Philippines in September 1581. It was said that one of the main reasons that moved him to accept his bishopric in the Philippines was its nearness to China.
Salazar felt sad to see that the Chinese people were totally ignorant of the Christian religion. This explains his zeal to bring the Chinese sangleys in the country into the knowledge and fold of Christianity.
In his own words, Salazar lamented:
“When I arrived, most of the sangleys were almost forgotten, thrown into a corner with no thought about their conversion, for nobody knew their language, nor did anybody start learning it, due to its great difficulty, and also because the religious found here were busy working in the ministry of the natives.”
Salazar set things in motion. He contacted the governor, Don Gonzalo Ronquillo, and proposed a solution.
In his letter to King Philip II on June 20, 1594, Salazar writes:
“Since I suffered greatly to see that a people such as these would have no ministers who could teach and indoctrinate them in their own language, I tried to arrange with Don Gonzalo Ronquillo to put them apart in a place by themselves, and give them ministers to learn the language, and teach them in their place.”
Thus, the Chinese were moved to parian, a special place adjacent to the city of Manila, then Intramuros, where they could be checked and controlled.
Due to their daily contact with Spaniards, interaction with Christian Filipinos, the efforts of the missionaries and the zeal of Salazar, some of the Chinese eventually embraced Christianity, but not as many as Salazar had hoped for.
But in Salazar the Chinese found an ally: He would come to their defense against those who sought to take advantage of them.
The arrival in 1587 of the Dominicans to which Salazar belonged meant the start of serious and dedicated apostolic work among the Chinese.
The Dominicans built a church in the parian. Benavides and Fr. Juan Cobo were put in charge of missionary works there. Both had a good command of the Chinese language. At the time, the Chinese in parian numbered more than 2,000.
Over time, the apostolate of Chinese passed entirely to the care of the Dominicans. They continued with the ministry of the parian.
By 1590, they had built the Hospital of San Gabriel near Intramuros, exclusively for the Chinese. The Dominicans opened the hospital as a human and Christian service to the Chinese and as a means of evangelization.
According to Salazar, by 1590, four Dominicans were ministering to more than 6,000 Chinese, both residents of the Philippines and transient traders.
No wonder there is a Salazar Street in Chinatown. There is also a famous Salazar Bakery along Ongpin Street.