CNN PRODUCER NOTE Journalist Murray Bell, a member of the Philippines-based congregation Iglesia ni Cristo since 2007, was one of the thousands to attend an early 100th birthday celebration for the church in Hong Kong on June 2. The church will mark 100 years on July 27, 2014.
Created in 1914, the church has millions of members across more than 100 counties, according to the church’s website. Bell, a deacon with the church, says “preserving brotherhood and sisterhood” is a top priority for its members.
Photo credit: Jojo Labid - zdan, CNN iReport producer
The fastest-growing Church in the world made its biggest impact to date in Hong Kong yesterday when the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) held an early Centenary celebration at the Kowloon Bay Trade and Exhibition Centre. The KITEC Star Hall and its environs were packed with a mix of Church members and visitors, who enjoyed two hours of quality entertainment, followed by a “bible exposition” delivered by senior ministers who flew in from the Philippines for the occasion.
Guests were initially wowed from noon by some home-grown talent from the various congregations, then by the star power of the comedic acrobat Abe Velasco and his Golden Show. But the biggest reaction was saved for Filipino music veteran Victor Wood, 68, also a church convert. “He sounds more like Neil Diamond than Neil Diamond,” one member quipped.
The message from lead minister, Brother Glicerio Santos Jnr, was powerful in its simplicity as he addressed the people of Hong Kong. He said that 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ of Galilee established this Church --- the Church of Christ --- and the proper way of serving and worshipping God was fully laid out for mankind in words of the Bible. So many of the plethora of Churches in today’s world operate of rules created by man, he said, while the Church of Christ is very strict in the application of the true words of God.
Brother Santos’s presentation included a short documentary, recording the growth and spread of the Church of Christ. The reception area of KITEC was mildly chaotic immediately after the event as guest clamoured to get registered as bible students, and to learn more about the Church of Christ. Brother Efren Valencia, the head minister for the district of China, declared the event “a great success”. “It has been a monumental day in the history of the Church and to see so many visitors sitting so attentively, listening to God’s words --- it’s truly touched our hearts,” he added.
Iglesia ni Cristo celebrates 100 years on July 27, and has been in Hong Kong now for 40 years. In 2013, the Church opened 128 new houses of worship in various parts of the world, including three more in Hong Kong. An estimated 9,000 Church members and their guests attended yesterday’s celebration, under the banner of its fellowship organization “Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko (My Countrymen, my Brethren). Iglesia Ni Cristo was re-established by Brother Felix Y. Manalo, who registered it with the Philippine government in 1914 --- coinciding with the opening day of World War I.
The Church quickly spread throughout the Philippines and then began its migration to the western world in 1968, with the first overseas congregation being opened in Hawaii. Today, the Church can be found in 102 countries, with more than a million new members baptized worldwide in 2013 and a million more currently undergoing their pre-membership bible studies. In Manila, the Church’s outreach and community help programs set new global benchmarks, recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. They provided 4,128 dental health checks and took the Guinness Record in 2012. The Church’s charity walk to raise funds for victims of super typhoon Yolanda also established a world record in February 2014. Guinness recognized 519,221 people walking for the cause at 129 sites around the globe.