MODESTO DE CASTRO
Modesto de Castro, a Catholic priest and moralist, a writer and an orator is hardly known today although in his generation he was one of the highly respected and honored native members of the clergy.
Modesto was born about the first half of the nineteenth century in Biņan, Laguna and was educated at the Real Colegio de San Jose in Manila under the administration of the Jesuits. Some years later, after completing the course for tile priesthood, he became a curate of the Manila Cathedral. He was a good speaker and because of his ample talents in delivering political sermons. he was transferred from the Manila Cathedral to Naic, Cavite where he became one of the highly esteemed citizens of that community.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines was quite consistent in its opposition to the use of the Spanish language by the common people while the government policy maintained the opposite. But since the government ruled the colonies through a small group of officials, the friars who had already penetrated deep into the communal life of the people, had more influence and their services for conquest and rule were deemed indispensable. Incidentally, the friars were looked up to with more respect by the people than the appointed political or civil officials.
However, the desire of Spain to strengthen further her sovereignty in the colonies and to enhance the fast assimilation of the natives to the Christian religion made the use of Tagalog very urgent.
It was these circumtances that probably led Father de Castro, to preach in Tagalog even though he was educated in Spanish. A fiery orator, he exerted much influence for which he was loved and respected, but also incurred the dissatisfaction of many of the friars.
Father de Castro did not only preach the gospel orally, he also wrote works of great spiritual values many of which were biblical inspiration. One of his works was the Platicas Doctrinales, printed in 1855. There was such a great demand for this classical work that in 1864 and 1878, it had to be reprinted. It is said that this work was plagiarized by some members of the clergy in their attempt to write in Tagalog. Because of this, the beauty of Father de Castro's work was destroyed.
Father de Castro also wrote Cartas de Urbana Y Felisa or Pagsusulatan Nang Dalauang: Binibini Na si Urbana at Felisa or simply Urbana at Felisa. This was all about the observance of good manners and right conduct among the young, in almost all occasions and places - gatherings, parties, dances, church, school, etc. The first printing of the book was in 1864. In 1877, 1889, and 1892 more copies were printed. Under the American regime, the book was again published in 1907, 1925 and 1938.
So great was the demand for Urbana at Felisa that Juan Caoili translated it to Iloko in 1866; Fruto del Prado also translated the same work in Bikol in 1867. Other translations of Urbana at Felisa were made in Visayan. Owing to the desire of every parent to have a copy of the book, Urbana at Felisa became a "Bible" in almost every home.
The other works of Father Modesto de Castro were Coleccion de Sermones, (in Tagalog, 600 pages, Manila, 1878): Esposicion de la Siete Palabras, (Manila, 94 pages, 1887); and Novena a San Isidro, (in Tagalog, Manila, 1888).
As an exponent of good social breeding, Father de Castro may be called the Filipino "Emily Post." Pertinent to courtesy and respect, he wrote:
In the presence of your parents or that of elderly person, do not keep your cigarette in your mouth, nor talk loudly or ... act in any way (that ) shows lack of respect. Do not point with your finger nor give your back to him. When talkin and do not address yourself to one alone, disregarding the rest. But if among them is one elder than the rest, or one of importance, address yourself preferably to him without, however, being discourteous to the others.
Father de Castro, by writing in Pilipino, made the belief in God and the Christian religion more understandable and meaningful to the people. Directly or indirectly, he greatly helped his people in the development of national recognition, identity and integrity. For the invaluable literary services of Father de Castro the critics in Pilipino Literature conferred upon him the title, "King of Prose."