By Ellen Gold. Based on information in the book, Maglipay Universalist, by Fred Muir (Annapolis, Maryland: Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 2001) and a 2002 review of Muir's book by Rosemary Bray McNatt in UU World magazine.
I bet some of you love to read. Maybe you have a favorite book. Maybe you like to read street signs out loud, or read magazines at home, or read the words to your favorite songs.
Maybe you do not love reading. But most people agree that reading certainly is useful, especially if you are curious about things.
What if you were not allowed to learn to read? What if you were forbidden to read, or told you could not learn to read or write until you were older?
That is what happened to Toribio Quimada. He grew up in the Philippines in the 1930s. The Philippines are a group of islands off the southeast coast of Asia. Toribio lived on the Island of Negros.
Toribio's family were farmers. That is one reason Toribio did not learn to read when he was your age. He and his sisters and brothers worked instead of going to school. They planted rice, herded cattle, and did other farm chores. When he was ten, he started school, but school cost money and his family did not have much. He got to go to the Minglanilla School for only a few years.
There was another reason Toribio did not learn to read when he was your age. It was not important in his family's religion. They were Catholics in a time and place where only priests were allowed to read the Bible. That was one book Toribio very much wanted to read, because he was very curious about religion. But when he was your age, Toribio had no books and could not read at all.
Toribio wanted more from life. He had many questions. He wondered what was true, what God was like, and how religion and faith were connected to all that he did.
In 1937, Toribio's family moved into the home of a cousin who was not Catholic. Reading the Bible was allowed, and Toribio did it. He studied the Bible very carefully. After reading and thinking and thinking and reading, he made the choice to leave the Catholic Church. He wanted to be part of a religion where the members were allowed to read their religious book. He joined a Protestant church called Iglesia Universal de Cristo, where reading the Bible was encouraged.
Toribio took part in many activities at Iglesia Universal de Cristo. He learned so much that he was asked to teach Sunday school there. He had come a long way from not knowing how to read or write. In time, Toribio became a minister. Sometimes he traveled around the Philippine Islands, so people in many different villages could learn about Iglesia Universal de Cristo. Toribio continued to search for truth and meaning. Yet, even though he was now a minister, neither reading nor his new religion could answer all Toribio's questions.
The most important questions were about God and love. Toribio believed in a God that loved all people, no matter what country they lived in, what religion they were, what they looked like, or whether they broke any rules. He believed we all ought to love everyone, exactly the way the God in Toribio's mind would do.
One day, Toribio found out there was a church in America called a Universalist Church. "Universal" was the kind of love Toribio believed in. Toribio was curious and wrote them a letter. Although his letter got lost and nobody replied, he wrote more letters to Universalist churches in America. Can you imagine, before there was any Internet, if a letter arrived at our congregation from as far away as the Philippines? Finally, some Universalists in Massachusetts heard from Toribio Quimada and wrote back.
As Toribio read the books they sent him, he was happy that others shared his Universalist ideas. Universalism talked about a God and a love that included the whole universe — every person, and the world we share. In Universalism, everyone could read the Bible, and more: Everyone was encouraged to think their own thoughts about what they read. Toribio liked that.
In 1955, Toribio founded the Universalist Church of the Philippines. He went on to help many people in his country, working on the Island of Negros where he was raised.
Universalism talked about equal love for everyone, and that meant things should be fair. Some people in the Philippines did not agree with that. Some people thought being obedient was more important than seeking fairness. Some did not like the changes Toribio's religion might bring to their country. They set his home on fire, and he died there.
But the people who had learned from Toribio kept practicing Universalism, and so did others. His hard work was never forgotten. The Universalist Church Toribio founded was renamed the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines. Its members are part of our faith today. Like us, they continue to search for truth and meaning. They continue to look for justice and freedom for all people, just as Toribio would have wanted.