The Philippines: An Asiatic and Catholic Archipelago – Written by Rev. Fr. Pierre de Charentenay, SJ.
REACTION TO THE BOOK By: Msgr. Jose Clemente F. Ignacio, Faber Hall,
Ateneo de Manila University
The book was simple and easy to read. The first part gave a broad survey of the more than 300 years of Philippine History. I just want to take note of the fact that I was very delighted to read about the Jesuit’s presence in the early part of Philippine history (I noticed that the Jesuits were mentioned several times … more than the Dominicans…).
I will try to concentrate my reactions on five points:
1) First, the question on the definition of ‘Catholic Church’;
2) Second, the desire to expicitate more about the Catholic Culture in our Country;
3) Third and more specific is regarding the Question on Popular Religiosity;
4) Fourth, on the issue: Does Popular Religiosity contribute to Social Transformation? and
5) Lastly, the challenge of modernity for the Catholic Church today in the Philippines
RE: The question on the definition of ‘Catholic Church’. In the book, certain positions were forwarded as positions of the Catholic Church. Certain judgements too were made about the Church today. But what do we really mean by Catholic Church? The reality of this ‘thing called Catholic Church’ is that there is a spectrum of different personages and groups involved in its life. There are also varying positions and approaches on issues that confront it. Yes, we do hear bishops or priests speak on certain issues, but their voice might not be representative of the position of the whole Catholic Church in the Philippines. Sometimes what the media picks up may not be representative of the positions of groups within the Church or the Church at large.
When we speak of ‘The Catholic Church’ what do we really mean? The term Catholic Church, involves several layers. I was hoping to be clarified on the definition of the word ‘Catholic Church’ when judgements were mentioned about it on certain issues in the book.
For example, when it was said that during Martial Law, the Catholic Church gave its blessings and tolerated the lavishness of those in power, and that it only spoke out until 1979; Who do we mean here, or which part of the Church were we speaking of? If we meant the Catholic Church Leadership, bishops like Antonio Fortich, Federico Escaler, Francisco Claver and Msgr. Nico Bautista, were often heard, being critical, during those years when the Dictator was in power. Their statements reached foreign media outlets. These and many more religious and diocesan church leaders were definitely not silent. In fact, many of them suffered and were imprisoned. The first time people heard Cardinal Sin and the CBCP speak out and oppose Martial Law was early in 1973, a year after its declaration. The evils of Martial Law were already discerned. It was the time too that the Jesuit Novitiate and other Jesuit houses were “raided” by the Military. Fr. Blanco was among those imprisoned. Cardinal Sin expressed his strong indignation to this abuse by the military and had to use the pulpit in a pastoral statement read in all the Churches in his Archdiocese due to the government’s control of the media. The CBCP came out with a public statement requesting Marcos to end Martial Law and Cardinal Sin lead a public gathering. The Bishops were not silent against the dictatorship before 1979. So I was wondering what was meant by the term ‘Catholic Church’ in the book of Fr. Pierre or what standard was used to come up with such a conclusion?
Another instance which needs clarification about the concept of Church is with regards to the statement that the “Church pressured the Supreme Court to soften the RH Bill”. The appeals to the Supreme Court came from Lay People who invoked legal and constitutional issues. The lay people were careful and astute to confine themselves to legal concerns. They did not want to be accused of religious imposition and they gave the court the freedom to exercise its real role. Did Church here mean Bishops or lay?
Also regarding RH Bill, it was mentioned that the Catholic Church has shifted to a more legislative arena. Which or who in the Catholic Church was meant here? To be honest, I was one of those drafted by pro-life groups to assist some Bishops in lobbying in Congress to uphold Catholic values. But I knew that not all bishops agreed to this approach of mobilizations and rallies. But I saw that if corporations lobby for their interests in creating laws that would benefit their businesses, government lobbying in Congress to push for their programs’, schools and NGO’s lobbying in Congress for their causes, why can’t the Church also lobby in Congress to promote her values? However, not all Bishops or priests agree to such an approach. Some would approach it through quiet meetings and dialogues. They don’t go to the media and organize rallies. Some would ignore the political arena and just strengthen the formative components to educate their parishioners to decide according to the Church’s teachings. What the media reported was not the position of all the bishops. Though, the CBCP was clear in its advocacies regarding Church teachings, there were many positions regarding approaches to the issue and different acceptabilities on the details of the RH BILL. These were not elucidated in news coverages.
We need to define what we mean by “Catholic Church” when it is mentioned in statements appropriated in the book. A generalized use of the term Catholic Church might not present a precise picture of the situation we are looking at.
RE: The desire to explicitate more the Catholic Culture in our Country: The book made an effort at painting political developments with much detail. While the book also mentions that Religion has a vital role in society, I hope to be clarified more on this aspect of the religious culture. How did it become entrenched in Philippine Society? How did it become part of our system? What makes our Archipelago Catholic apart from saying it by its name? Even as a brief survey, I was wondering if it might help, perhaps, to present an adequate treatment of how the people of the islands appropriated the Catholic faith beginning with the arrival of the missionaries. Though, there was a mention of a hybrid culture, I see our Catholic Culture as not just a mixture of Spanish, Mexican and American cultures. There is something Filipino and Catholic already at its core even before the Spaniards came (I do believe that the Holy Spirit and Jesus was already here and working even before the first Christians came to our country). It is this Filipino Culture which has assimilated elements of the visiting cultures and created it to be not American, Spanish or Malay, but Filipino. The disappearance of some religious practices in Spain and Mexico which still thrives in the Philippines speaks of how Filipinos made those practices their own. It has become Filipino, not European or Mexican. A penetration into this culture has happened which explains its staying power today. I am interested about how this Catholic culture developed. The book attempted to describe this uniquely Filipino Catholic Culture. I am hoping that this culture could be expounded. This is strong and it needs to be better understood.
From bits and pieces of Philippine history, we could sense this Catholic Culture pervading. In the past, one can ask about the commitment to the Catholic Faith by the Filipinos even despite the friar abuses, or the anti-clerical positions of leaders in society. Or even during the American times when public education promoted anti Catholic loyalties and the thrust to Protestantism was strong, why did the majority of Filipinos remain as Catholics? Today, the practices of the faith and the devotions people hold on to, even among oversees contract workers, make us realize that it is a strong culture in the lives of Christian Filipinos. Fr. Pierre’s title to the book Catholic Archipelago recognizes this. Even the jeepneys lead us to this Catholic Cultural presence in society where symbols of the faith are hung or painted on peoples’ vehicles. The values Filipinos possess (e.g. love for the family, pakikiramay, damayan, or even that of forgiveness which others blame as the reason for the come-back of former politicians accused of corruption), are already manifestations of this Catholic Culture. Most glaring are some popular religious practices today, considered as a phenomena. The sheer number of devotees participating with their willingness to undergo sacrifice and even death, still amazes the skeptics and believers alike. These are indicative of an already existing Catholic Culture. If they are part of a Catholic Culture, they are not without a deep sense of reason.
Regarding the Question on Popular Religiosity: Some say, especially about the Black Nazarene Devotion, they are fanatical exercises. The processions are judged by others as ‘frenzies’ and ‘hysteria’. But for one who has been assigned in Quiapo Church for some years, practices of popular piety are not shallow expressions. Using contemporary jargon to explain these expressions, “may pinaghuhugutan ang mga ito”. It comes from deep within and these devotions have been embraced with conviction by the Filipino masses (although there is a difference, I shall say, between the devotions attached to the church and the cultic practices of flagellations and crucifixions which are not part of Church rituals today). Catholic religious piety is part of this Catholic culture especially prevalent among the masses. Catholic culture has not been a product of imposition but the people have appropriated this culture to themselves. We do want to understand this more: Our identity being a Catholic Archipelago.
My experience of being assigned as pastor in Quiapo Church has brought me to the realization that there is a vast and deep reality among Filipinos that I have not really understood. At one point we were told by government that there was a terrorist threat during the Black Nazarene procession. No less than the President of the Republic explained to me the circumstances that led them to the judgement about the threat. Our decision was to bring the matter to the awareness of the people. We agreed that we could not stop the procession because the people will still push through with it and it could be worst without proper leadership. When the President announced the threat to the public (and I also announced this at the Luneta Grandstand), I said to Gen. Purisima, “General, fewer people will come tomorrow.” The good General protested “Father, on the contrary, more will come tomorrow. Just observe.” True enough, the size of the crowd joining the procession doubled. I said, if this happened in Washington or in Tokyo, people will no longer join the festivities. But here, not even terrorist threats will stop the people’s expression of their faith. The General was street smart. He sensed this culture in the devotees, a culture which is quite strong.
Months are spent in preparation for the January 9 Black Nazarene Festivities. It is not just a lay organized initiative as what was mentioned in the book. It is a combined organization of the clergy, the lay, the government, the barangays, the media and the NGO’s. Realizing the dangers of high concentration of peoples and the desire of millions to come close to or touch the image, practices have evolved and strategies for safety during the celebration have been worked out. Thousands of volunteers and organizers work at keeping the people safe. Even the mamamasans have their traditions aimed at keeping the people safe around the carriage. But the dangers and the risks are there. Admittedly, baby steps are being undertaken to improve on the celebration of the practice.
The devotion has grown faster than the Church is able to catechize devotees. Church programs have been harnessed to bring about a more systematic biblical and catechetical formation. Avenues too for involvement in social transformation have been created so much so that Protestants have recognized the role these devotions play in social transformation. The pastoral programs of Quiapo Church have benefited hundreds of thousands already in terms of its social services, legal assistance, livelihood, disaster preparedness and response including relief and rehabilitation, first aid and health services, ecology, family life, youth, social communications and interreligious dialogues. The devotion has already produced a Foundation, the Lord of the Black Nazarene Foundation Inc., that reaches out to churches in the whole Philippines and even to other countries.
With regards to the Devotees, Cardinal Tagle mentioned in one of his interviews: “To understand a Devotee, you have to be a Devotee. Only a Devotee can best understand a Devotee.” I guess this is true for my case when I entered Quiapo Church as a skeptic bringing with me the education I was formed with in this Ateneo of my times. But later, I came to realize, there was a whole new catholic culture I needed to understand. It is the culture of many Filipinos and unfortunately, this culture was not much understood. I was asking, was it because the Filipino’s identity has not been understood well enough? And if history helps us in understanding our identity, from whose point of view are our histories been written? I have seen many histories about our country written from the point of view of those who lead our country, those who had a stature in society, those who were with influence, with wealth, and with power. Are there some history books where the stories came from the point of view of the masses, of the little people, of the majority of Filipinos? Maybe, these history books could reap a larger understanding of the Filipino’s identity and his culture?
RE: Does Popular Religiosity Contribute to Social Transformation: Among the questions posed in the book regarding our religious and devotional practices is: Do the practices really have no social effect especially in the Philippines where extreme poverty is being experienced in many areas? One of the portions of the book mentions the question on this ‘expression of faith’, with such spectacular rituals, do they have an effect on the social realties of our times, more specifically on social justice? It does not seem to give this type of fruit? There is de facto, as Fr. Pierre mentions, a separation between the religious and the social realm. Faith is expressed here unrelated to ethical practice.
The Black Nazarene procession often blown up in media is just one among the many expressions of the devotion to the Black Nazarene. Is this perception of what we see at the tip of the iceberg the basis of our judgement about the rationality and meaningfulness of the Devotion? The Black Nazarene devotion is a very complex reality. It involves groups of Balangays, among others, bonding together and making sense of their faith despite the struggles and difficulties they experience in their lives. These Balangays, are small BECs (Basic Ecclesial Communities) trying to create themselves into small families as they bond to help each other in times of difficulties. They ask the help of Señor Jesus Nazareno. Other groups involve faithful devotees who line up to touch the images at the pahalik area of the Church. The majority are those who attend masses in Quiapo Church.
Of course, from the sociological point of view, we could not as yet identify the benefits of this participation in the devotion. But definitely, those whose prayers have been answered agree. I remember asking the devotees in one mass the reasons for their coming. By a raising of hands in and around the Church, all responded that the Black Nazarene answered their prayers. It is the Black Nazarene who works and transforms the lives of peoples. How do you translate this in sociological data?
From the Church organization side, programs have been initiated to harness this devotion towards the transformation of society. The Church Organization has a Division on Social Transformation where several ministries related to this purpose are clustered. These ministries have thousands of volunteers. Quiapo Church has been recognized in Cebu during the Yolanda International Gathering of Responders as ‘Caritas Quiapo’. The impact of the devotion on social transformation has already been felt. Devotees pour in their resources to help in disaster responses. After the earthquake in Bohol, more than 60 semi-permanent houses were built from the donations of the poor devotees. Some Mamamasans went there to train the people how to build the houses designed by an Engineer Devotee of Quiapo Church. During Yolanda, more than 30M was sent to the dioceses in order to respond to the relief and rehabilitation efforts due to the disaster. These came from the devotees who involved themselves in these rituals. The rituals have a power to move the heart of the devotees to respond to the needs of society. One just needs to visit Quiapo Church and see the on-going social transformation programs of the parish participated in by volunteers and devotees. Of course, compared to the vast needs of Philippine society, Quiapo Church responses are mere drops in large buckets.
One may ask this question: Why is it that poverty exists so much in a predominantly Catholic Country such as the Philippines? What has the Church done to combat poverty? I answer the question by also asking: Isn’t combating poverty also the work of government?, of businesses and corporations which are now realizing their role and responsibility in poverty alleviation? We are all part of this reality and the Church has not forgotten its Caritas mission. The Catholic Church is the largest NGO in the Philippines and it has been trying to respond to poverty all these years. Yes, as Fr. Pierre mentioned, corruption and the problems of violence are also to be found in other countries. Inequality is everywhere. In every nation, fractures are everywhere. I guess the ultimate answer to the question of poverty does not reside in sociology but in theology. We have to look at sin and the structures of sinfulness to understand this. The Church has been doing its best specially in the area of formation, that values may hopefully move families and communities to respond to social realities. The Church is not perfect. Church responses are also developing and we learn from the shortcomings of the past.
RE: The challenge of modernity for the Catholic Church today in the Philippines: The Catholic Church today is contending and dealing with modern realities. In this period of plurality, how does the Church voice out what it values? Modernity was a reaction in the west towards an era where the Church had dominion over many aspects of social life. But today, the Church is just one such institution among the many institutions with their specific goals and tasks. The search for relevancy, meaning and reason to exist are questions the modern mind asks even among various institutions.
The Church has been engaging the modern world not just in the sphere of social justice but in other aspects as well, which would involve morals and faith. The question now is how will this Church engage modernity? How can the Church communicate its vision and its values to the world in these modern times. The Church has been grappling with this. But it is not only the Church, even academic institutions, government, the business sector, the NGO’s and other sectors are also dealing with the challenges of modernity.
Our Church leaders have sensed that modernity is sensitive to any imposition of the Church over other’s spheres. But the problem is, the Church has to speak out specially in the realm of faith and morals. It sees some areas in modernity that could threaten society like for example the dangers of ethical relativism (society might be lose its moral compass if there is no longer a standard to follow) or indifference to social relationships and the environment has caused isolation to peoples and societies. The Industrial Revolution has brought the world to the brink of uncertainty in various spheres and even the prospect of the collapse of the social order. How does the Church deal with this? How will the Church deal with modernity in the coming years?
The book of Fr. Pierre stimulates us to reflect upon our country and our religion in the face of the changing times. It has been a long journey. Realities bring about questions which engages us to take a look at what is happening. Fr. Pierre has looked at our realities as a social scientist and has made observations on the Philippine Church and Filipino Catholic Religiosity. He tries to be fair and his observations are very insightful and a challenge to us. Again, my gratitude to Fr. Pierre and all for the opportunity to be part of this reaction.