The Bell Church of Benguet brings hope amid the pandemic


EDUCATION: Bell Church’s Dragon and Lion Dance performers are mostly students from the Chinese-Filipino community in Baguio City and Benguet or local neighborhoods. Trained like athletes, the latest generation of dancers resumed rehearsals during the pandemic whenever quarantine and health protocols allowed them to come together for brief weekend sessions.

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Philippines – Young people, some without face masks, spent their January 24 morning in the gardens of the Bell Church Pagoda, which has drawn tourists for the past 62 years to the border of this capital of Benguet and City of Baguio.

Inside the temple, a woman burned incense on an altar dedicated to five Chinese icons that symbolize the philosophies of the world’s major religions – Buddhism (Tao-Jih-Fu-Tsun), Taoism (Chang Tze -Fang), Confucianism (Liau Chen Shan Shr), Christianity (Lian Tai Sheng Mu) and Islam (Leu Chun Yang).

Like many Baguio spots, Bell Church has seen a sudden drop in visitor numbers over the past three weeks due to the threat posed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 following an influx of tourists during the holiday season. holidays.

The temple remained open but Sunday afternoon services were suspended due to pandemic restrictions.

However, as this year’s Spring Festival approaches, on February 1, the new year of the Chinese calendar, residents from both sides of the border are expected to flock to the temple.

“They’ll soon start coming [to seek guidance or divine intervention for their future]Francis Brito, Bell Church administrative manager and key contact, told the Inquirer.

Generations of Filipino families, including Chinese Filipinos who are fundamentally Christian, may have embraced modern practices, but Bell Church continues to be the anchor of their Chinese heritage and culture, he said. he declares.

Before the pandemic, residents of Baguio and La Trinidad visited this institution during the Spring Festival to pray for good fortune. Along downtown Session Road in Baguio, families came to watch the parade, featuring lion dance performers, as they joined Chinese Filipinos in welcoming the new year.

FAVORITE SET-UPS: The pagoda-style archway and facade of the 62-year-old Bell Church building have drawn worshipers and tourists alike for decades, with the structures becoming backdrops for family albums of Baguio visitors over the years.

Thames

This year’s celebrations will be as subdued as the first two years of the pandemic, but a recording of a lion dance performance will be streamed online “to show people we’re still here,” Brito said.

Bell Church offered hope to people when livelihoods were scarce and businesses closed at the start of the pandemic in 2020, and “hope is still what it offers in 2022, the year of the water tiger,” said businessman Peter Ng, owner of the hotel. Supreme located about a block from the temple.

For Chinese-Filipino families, Bell Church reminds them to be “good team players in difficult times,” Ng said, adding that it means “taking care of each other and loving and supporting each other so that we can continue to play together”. [in the fields of business, the academe or other enterprises].”

‘Unique place’

Bell Church began as a nondescript Buddhist temple, which was erected at the post-WWII home of Cantonese migrant Ng Pee in the village of Betag here.

The actual Bell Church was soon built “because the family became overwhelmed with guests,” Brito said.

There were no records available that would detail its beginnings except for an old Cantonese sign referring to August 1960 as the year Bell Church was established.

In his 2014 book, “After Migration and Religious Affiliation: Religions, Chinese Identities and Transnational Networks,” Malaysian anthropologist Chee-beng Tan described Bell Church as a “unique place of worship” for devotees of Jigong, a monk and folk hero of the 1100s who was revered as a meat-eating, beer-drinking champion of justice.

Congregants whose wishes had been granted through their prayers at Bell Church soon built nine other similar churches in Manila, Dagupan City in Pangasinan Province and parts of Mindanao, Tan wrote.

He said Bell Church’s philosophy was an example of religious syncretism or assimilation of various spiritual traditions.

Brito described it as a movement called Bellinism (sometimes called the Bell Religion), which is technically “the harmonization of Buddhism and Taoism”, which church members have subscribed to since the late 1950s and 1960.

Jigong and Chinese general Quan Qong are some of the deities who inspire the largest number of worshipers at Bell Church, he said. Quan Qong was legendary in China for his humility, compassion and wisdom during the Chiwu era (196-247).

The greater Filipino community knows the Bell Church Lion Dancers best. The first dancers were the children of the original members, but the group quickly grew into an athletic club made up of elementary and high school students, girls and boys, as well as young professionals and students who saw performances as their duty, said Brito, who is one of his many coaches.

Training has also been slowed down due to health regulations. But a core group of about 30 dancers have since taken over lion dance practices, said Brito, who was part of the team.

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