Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Toribio S. Quimada

Toribio S. Quimada was a man who knew the meaning and effects of intolerance. Born in 1917 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, Toribio was one of thirteen children. As a child, Toribio often heard his parents discuss religion and criticize the lax principles of the Protestant church. As strict Roman Catholics in the Philippines, they were forbidden to read the Bible because they were told it was created by Martin Luther. However, Toribio found it hard it to believe the teachings of the church, particularly around matters of salvation and damnation. He could not believe that a just, loving God, the God in whom he believed, would leave some people to suffer in hell for an eternity. He wanted very much to read the Bible to see for himself what it said, but because it was forbidden, no Bible was available.

In 1936, the economic effects of the Great Depression forced the Quimada family to move to the island of Negros where Toribio's uncle Fernando Quimada was a Protestant minister. Despite the hard feelings caused by their religious differences, Fernando helped the family settle into their new home. Toribio's uncle gave him his first Bible, and he was at last able to read its words for himself.

Under his uncle's influence Toribio converted to Protestantism. The Protestants were extremely suspicious of his conversion and questioned him closely, seeing him as a critic rather than as a sincere convert. But Toribio Quimada persevered in his attendance, eventually becoming a teacher in the Sunday School, though his own formal education had ended in the seventh grade. Eventually, Toribio's family came to accept his Protestant faith as their own. In 1943, about twenty members of the Quimada family were baptized into the church Toribio attended, the Iglesia Universal de Kristo.

Following the Second World War, the pastor of the Iglesia Universal fell ill and the people asked Quimada to step in. He was ordained as a minister of the church in 1948 and given responsibility for seven congregations. When he discovered that the Iglesia Universal could not provide sufficient hymnbooks, Bibles or Sunday School materials for the congregations' needs, he reached out to other Christian churches in the Philippines and abroad. In 1951, Quimada came across a listing of churches in America. He looked under "U" hoping to find the Iglesia Universal but instead found the Universalist Church of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, his letter requesting help was returned. Persevering, he wrote to the Universalist church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which not only answered him but also forwarded his letter to the Universalist Service Committee. They, in turn, provided the materials Quimada needed. For this contact, and for failing to pay 30 percent of his income to the Iglesia Universal headquarters, Quimada was excommunicated from the Iglesia Universal in 1954.

But Quimada was not one to stand still. With recommendations from city officials and the support of members of his former churches, the newly formed Universalist Church of the Philippines (UCP) was recognized by the Universalist Church of America in December, 1954. Nine congregations followed Rev. Quimada to Universalism.

After he completed his college degree in 1965, Quimada's ministry took a turn toward social activism. The poor farmers in the area around the UCP headquarters worked their family's lands for generations, but held no formal or legal deeds. This made it easy for corporations or wealthy farmers to take over the land. Angered when local officials took no action, Quimada helped the farmers obtain deeds to their properties. He also ran for local office, but lost due to a campaign of smears and vote buying. The opposition's slogan "If you vote for Quimada you will become a Universalist" caused great terror in an area dominated by corrupt government and the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church. Losing election to public office, however, did not dissuade Quimada from continuing to work for justice.

In 1972, the Universalist Church of the Philippines became a member of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). Twelve years later, in recognition of his outstanding service to liberal religion and the people of the Philippines, the IARF presented Quimada with the Albert Schweitzer Award for Distinguished Service.

In 1985, UCP became the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines and was accepted into membership of the UUA three years later. The delay in membership was due to a clause in the UUA bylaws that limited membership to North America. To admit UUCP to membership required nothing less than a change to the Association's bylaws.

While preparing to travel to General Assembly to receive recognition of the church's new status, Toribio Quimada was murdered by a group of assassins. In the early hours of the morning, his home was set ablaze. His wife and children escaped, but Rev. Quimada did not. His home and all church property were burned. No one has ever been charged with the murder of Rev. Toribio Quimada, founder of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, but little doubt remains that he paid a heavy price for a ministry of activism on behalf of the poor.