MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The head of the 2.25-million-strong Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), Brother Eduardo Manalo, gathered his flock on Sunday, July 26, in a huge anniversary event as the INC faces its worst crisis.
The INC on Sunday closes its yearlong centennial celebration in its P8.7-billion ($190.96-million), 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. (WATCH: 'Largest theater on Earth' shows Iglesia's influence)
On Monday, July 27, the politically influential church marks its 101st anniversary without any festivity.
In an interview with Rappler, INC spokesman Brother Edwil Zabala said Manalo on Sunday was set to lead the closing ceremonies for the INC's yearlong centennial celebration.
The event at the Philippine Arena was scheduled to be livestreamed in selected INC chapels around the world.
Zabala said Sunday's event was not open for media coverage.
In a tweet on Sunday morning, INC-run Eagle News described the event as an "edifying special worship service led by Executive Minister Eduardo V Manalo."
Radio dzBB reported that the INC's worship service at Philippine Arena ended at around 9 am.
One of those who attended the event said Manalo on Sunday did not directly address recent issues involving the INC, such as the alleged corruption in the church and the supposed abduction of INC ministers. The church leader, however, reportedly took a subtle swipe against critics.
'No divisions in INC'
The event comes as an unprecedented crisis threatens the INC.
The statements of Manalo's mother and brother, Tenny and Angel, also emboldened other INC members to speak out. In another YouTube video, expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr dared INC spokesmen, including Zabala, to speak the truth about the INC and become "spokespersons of God."
At the same time, informed sources confirmed to Rappler that Manalo and his ministers use planes worth billions of pesos for trips abroad. This prompted readers to question the INC leaders' lifestyles.
Zabala, however, denied that the crisis is dividing the INC, a church known for its culture of unquestioning obedience. (READ: The rise of INC: 'Stricter religions grow stronger')
"'Yung nagsasabi na nahahati ang Iglesia ay marahil bunga 'yon ng kakulangan ng kaalaman niya ukol sa pananampalataya ng mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo," Zabala told Rappler.
(Those saying the INC is divided might have been prompted by a lack of understanding of the faith of the members of the Iglesia ni Cristo.)
He said: "Ang mga kaanib sa Iglesia ni Cristo, nagkakaisa sa pagtataguyod nu'ng aral, at ang pangunahing nagdadala sa amin ng aral ng Bibliya ay ang Tagapamahalang Pangkalahatan ng Iglesia ni Cristo, si Kapatid na Eduardo Manalo."
(The members of the Iglesia ni Cristo remain united in upholding its teachings, the main person bringing us the teachings of the Bible is the Executive Minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo, Brother Eduardo Manalo.) – Rappler.com
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Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.