Philippine basketball

Philippine Arena shows INC’s ‘global’ stature

Paterno Esmaquel II
'They're not a religion in the Philippines. They're a religion in the world.'

GLOBAL CHURCH. Through the Philippine Arena, which is situated in the church's Ciudad de Victoria, the Iglesia ni Cristo shows it is a religion 'in the world,' says sociologist Jayeel Cornelio. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

BULACAN, Philippines – Dubbed the “largest theater” on Earth, the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) in Bocaue, Bulacan, shows this Philippine homegrown church’s global stature, a sociologist told Rappler.

The INC opened the Philippine Arena in time for its centennial on Sunday, July 27.

Specializing in sociology of religion, Jayeel Cornelio said in an interview: “The Philippine Arena is an establishment, is a marker, of what they are right now in the 21st century. They’re not a religion in the Philippines. They’re a religion in the world.”

The INC, after all, is found in 100 countries and territories around the world, aside from its 4,800 churches and local congregations around the Philippines.

“It’s a demonstration of who they are to perform that they are more powerful than they used to be,” Cornelio added. (READ: The rise of INC: ‘Stricter religions grow stronger’)

He said the Philippine Arena is a broader symbol of power than the Iglesia ni Cristo’s grandiose headquarters in Tandang Sora, Quezon City, which was inaugurated in 1984. That was when the INC “was emerging as a formidable religious institution in the Philippines,” Cornelio said.

Decades later, the INC opened the Philippine Arena on Monday, July 21, with President Benigno Aquino III himself as the guest of honor during the inauguration.

The INC is known for its political clout aside from its booming membership. (Watch more in the video below)

‘In touch with people’

In his interview with Rappler, Cornelio added that the Philippine Arena is “also a statement of how Christianity, a Philippine kind of Christianity, has arrived in the global scene.”

He cited the claim of the INC that God’s messenger “in these last days” will come from the East, particularly the Philippines, as they refer to INC founder Felix Manalo.

He also mentioned the INC’s “very Filipino” characteristics – from its use of the Filipino language to the custom of wearing the native formal attire called the barong.

This is unlike most Christian groups, which he described as “Western” in approach.

Cornelio said: “I think Iglesia ni Cristo is totally different. From the very start, it saw itself as a Filipino religion. The prophet’s coming from the East. How much more Filipino can you get? And declaring this to be the true church.”

“It’s stealing the center from the West, locating it in the East. It is homegrown,” he added.

Cornelio said being homegrown, along with the INC’s strictness, partly explains the INC’s growth in the Philippines. “It’s in touch with the people.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.