MANILA, Philippines—“God is blessing the Church of Christ with unimaginable victories.”
Executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo exulted as his Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) celebrated its centennial on Sunday with more than a million faithful in attendance at Ciudad de Victoria in Bocaue town, Bulacan province, and winning in the process two more Guinness world records.
Earlier, Ciudad de Victoria’s centerpiece spectacle, the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena, was declared the “largest mixed-use indoor theater” by Guinness, while the choir that sang hymns during the special worship service officiated by Manalo was hailed as the “largest gospel choir” in a single venue.
This brought to eight the total number of Guinness records achieved by INC since July 2012. Five of them were set this year, on INC’s centennial, including the two earlier world records achieved for the Worldwide Walk for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda on Feb. 15.
The number of choir members whom the Guinness adjudicator considered Sunday was 4,745, representing those who sang inside the Philippine Arena. But in all, the choir members numbered 10,000, including those at the 25,000-seat Philippine Stadium beside the giant dome-shaped marvel.
“This is officially the new Guinness world record,” said Guinness adjudicator Kaoru Ishikawa. She presented the new record for the “largest gospel choir” to INC general auditor Glicerio B. Santos Jr. to the cheers of more than 50,000 spectators inside the arena.
It bested the previous record of 1,171 people singing gospel music organized by McDonald’s Gospel Super Choir to celebrate Black History Month, at Newark Symphony Hall in Newark, New Jersey, on Jan. 31.
“And surprisingly, you achieved another record,” Ishikawa said, referring to Philippine Arena for being the “largest mixed-use indoor theater.” This is an altogether new record for the architectural marvel that is both earthquake- and typhoon-proof. It has a 3.6-hectare dome-shaped roof with no beams supporting it in the center, making it a challenge to its builders who came from the leading architectural and construction firms in the world.
It is a category created for Philippine Arena that could not just be classified as simply the largest indoor arena in the world because of its uniqueness.
“This is an altogether new category,” Santos said. “It’s only in the Philippines that we have it.”
Guinness counted 51,919 people in the arena during the early morning worship service and more people packed the huge theater, while hundreds of thousands more watched outside. More than 1,180 satellite link sites also enabled the service to be beamed to millions more of INC followers in the Philippines and in other parts of the globe.
Manalo said God was showering INC with blessings. He said that since 2009 alone, 603 INC buildings of worship have been constructed worldwide. Of these, 52 are in the Philippines and 51 abroad. Aside from these, 349 other buildings of worship are undergoing renovation. One of the newest buildings of worship offered to God this July is the Capitol locale, which cost P347 million.
Manalo said INC was also buying properties and buildings abroad to serve its rapidly growing flock.
In Miami, he said, INC has been looking for properties. He said 13 Catholic churches that had been abandoned had been offered to INC for sale.
Manalo said at the special worship service that it was only fitting to give back to God all the glory and praise because of the victories he was showering on the church in the past 100 years.
“This is God’s work, that despite the global economic recession and the decline in membership of other churches worldwide, God is blessing the Church of Christ with unimaginable victories, which shows that God is steering His church,” Manalo said.
He said this was God’s promise to the prophesied “Last Messenger”—INC’s first executive minister, the late Felix Y. Manalo, who first registered the Church of Christ in Manila on July 27, 1914, with just an initial 14 members.
Also on Sunday, INC gave distinction to ministers who had been in service for the last 50 years or more. They were given an award called Gawad Bituin. The INC leader also recognized the locale and the district that had the most “fruits” or converts baptized into INC since 2010. Manalo also gave an award to the “most fruitful” church evangelical worker and the “most fruitful” INC minister selected from all over the world.
On Saturday night, a 20-minute centennial musical fireworks display at Philippine Arena wowed the INC followers.
Up to 2 million came
Francis Tolentino, chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), which oversaw the traffic and security for the event, estimated the crowd at 2 million at the venue. As early as Saturday, INC recorded 1.4 million members who arrived in Bocaue for the centennial service.
Many INC members had camped in Bocaue since Saturday night but were also able to join the service and commemoration, courtesy of giant screens put up around the complex.
The northbound lane of North Luzon Expressway on the approach to Philippine Arena was closed to motorists, serving instead as a wide parking area for more than 15,000 buses and other vehicles. When the celebrations ended, some INC members had to walk a kilometer to the Bocaue toll exit of the expressway to their vehicles.
Garbage, another anticipated problem, was managed well. Litter was minimal because the motorists were required to bring their own garbage containers, he said.
Task Force Sentenaryo, created by President Aquino, provided emergency services, dealing with more than 100 medical complaints such as fainting cases due to the overcrowded facilities, he said.
Many Bulacan businessmen set up food stalls along with fast-food restaurants from Metro Manila outside the gates of Philippine Arena.
Chief Supt. Raul Petrasanta, Philippine National Police regional director, said the event was generally peaceful.–With reports from Maricar B. Brizuela, Julie M. Aurelio and Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Inquirer Central Luzon