Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy of Novaliches. (Photo by Severino C. Samonte)

MANILA -- As the old Our Lady of Mercy Parish Church in Novaliches, divided between Quezon City and Caloocan City, marks its 162nd anniversary on Monday, I look back to trace how the parish church has evolved into a diocesan shrine.

For one thing, the church has become the mother of at least 70 other parishes and churches as the population of Novaliches increased tremendously to 2,545,398 as of May 1, 2012, according to the Novaliches Diocese website.

When Novaliches was created as a town during the Spanish regime in 1855, it had an area of 200 to 300 square kilometers bounding with San Jose town of Bulacan in the north; Montalban and San Mateo in Morong (now Rizal province) in the east; Caloocan in the south; and Meycauayan and Polo (now Valenzuela City) in the west.

Most of its first parishioners came from Polo, Caloocan, Meycauayan, Obando, Sta. Maria, Bulacan; Tondo and Sampaloc, Manila; San Mateo, Marikina and Montalban. The town’s first church was erected in 1856 and the patron saint was Santisimo Corpus Criste, according to the book ”Ang Kasaysayan ng Novaliches” (History of Novaliches) published in 1997.

When Novaliches was reduced to a barrio and annexed to Caloocan in 1903 due to insufficient number of people to compose a town after the Spanish-Filipino and Filipino-American wars (1896-1901), the church retained its independent status --a clear proof of the separation of church and state principle.

Even after the former town was divided in 1948 between the nine-year-old Quezon City and the then town of Caloocan, Rizal, the Our Lady of Mercy church continued existing with its parishioners coming from the northern halves of QC and Caloocan, which became also a city in 1962.

Both the former town of Novaliches and its church experienced tremendous growth in population due to in-migration of people from Manila and its nearby southern cities and towns to the northern sections of Metro Manila, particularly Novaliches, Valenzuela City, North Caloocan City, Meycauayan City, and San Jose del Monte City.

In turn, this prompted the Manila Archdiocese to recommend to the Vatican the elevation of the former Our Lady of Mercy Parish Church into the Diocesan Shrine and Parish of Our Lady of Mercy as well as the creation of additional churches and parishes under the Diocese of Novaliches which was established on Dec. 7, 2002 and canonically erected by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 16, 2003.

The diocese has a jurisdiction area of 138 square kilometers, a dozen vicariates with 71 parishes and churches at present -- all emanating from the 162-year-old Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy Parish Church located at Dumalay St. and Quirino Highway, in Barangay Sta. Monica, Novaliches.

The seat of the diocese, which is dedicated to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is located at Regalado Ave. Extension, Fairview, Novaliches. The current head of the diocese is Bishop Antonio Tobias and the vicar general is Rev. Fr. Antonio E. Labiao Jr.

Tobias has been serving as the bishop of Novaliches since his appointment on Nov. 25, 2003, succeeding now Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro C. Bacani.

The territorial jurisdiction of the Diocese of Novaliches covers big portions of two premier cities which have their own dioceses -- Quezon City and Caloocan City. It includes Districts 2, 5 and 6 of Quezon City as well as Matandang Balara, and 23 barangays in North Caloocan City.

The dozen vicariates of the diocese are the: Vicariate of Christ the King, Vicariate of Our Lady of Lourdes, Vicariate of Sto. Niño, Vicariate of the Holy Cross, Vicariate of Ascension of Our Lord, Vicariate of Good Shepherd, Vicariate of Holy Spirit, Vicariate of Our Lady of Mercy, Vicariate of San Bartolome, Vicariate of San Isidro Labrador,Vicariate of Saint St. Peter, and Vicariate of Ina ng Lupang Pangako.

The creation of the Diocese of Novaliches was among the last acts recommended to Vatican City by Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, the 30th Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila who died on June 21, 2005. (PNA)