Monday, May 21, 2007

Catholicism in the Philippines

It is a common charge against Catholicism that in America Catholicism is relatively 'kosher' (if I can use that term) but in other countries where Catholicism is the powerhouse, devotion to the blessed Virgin and to the saints and other 'superstitions' overshadow the true gospel. But how true is that? How different is Catholicism in America from other countries? Well I can only speak of the Philippines but out of all the countries in the world that might have a corrupted version of Catholicism I would think it would be the Philippines (and I have heard that charge against them as well). But is it really true?

About 85% of the Philippines are Catholic so Catholicism dominates the religion scene there. But maybe these are just Catholics by birth like some countries in Europe that claim high Catholic populations with empty parishes...

I visited the beautiful Baclaran Church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) on a Wednesday afternoon for a novena. The Church seats 2,000 but there were easily 5,000 there or more. Apparently as many as 11,000 pack that place for masses. I was present for 2 different Novenas (waiting for the English Novena which never actually came for whatever reason) and saw the massive hall fill up wall to wall standing room only twice! It was very impressive. So much for the "just Catholic by birth" theory... these Catholics are devoted!

But what about superstition, does it overshadow the gospel like anti-Catholics often charge of Catholicism in developing nations and or thoroughly Catholic ones? I didn't see any indication of that whatsoever. ( I visited 4 different parishes celebrating mass in 2 of them). I was looking at a Catholic Bible in Tagalog and after I was through skimming the pages out of curiosity, I set it down where I got it from somewhat roughly (I dropped it from a foot or so) and there was a 7 year old boy (Catholic) sitting next to me and he said "Hey! That book is from Jesus and you just .." he didn't know the proper English but he was clearly indicating his disapproval at my apparent lack of respect for the Holy Bible. Wisdom from the mouth of babes. But what really struck me about the encounter was the deep respect all Catholics have for the Bible (not that Protestants don't by any means but that it is a false perception that Catholics don't regard the Scriptures just as high as any other Christians). I can speak for myself and say that joining the Catholic Church has done nothing but increase my respect and reverence for the Bible.

The only negative thing I can say about Catholicism in the Philippines is that they did, unfortunately, hold hands during the Our Father (at least in one parish I visited) and in the same parish they stood up well before they were supposed to during the consecration.

There are other Christians there, but Protestants are a minority there (the Catholics call them "born agains" - my Protestant friend said "I've been called worse") The church building on the right is the "central temple" of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Tagalog for Church of Christ if you didn't already guess) not to be confused with the American counterpart. I dont know much about them except for they don't believe in the Trinity and they apparently have some significant political influence in the (already corrupt) Philippine government. Other than Catholic Churches, I saw more of the Iglesia Ni Cristo churches than anything else.


Marc said...

I've been to Baclaran on a wednesday too. It was so awesome, but so hot. I almost passed out in the candle room.

Chad Toney said...

Great article.

I'm starting to conclude that many of these criticisms are nothing but some folks, perhaps unintentionally, confirming their own bigotry.

I think their concerns about "who gets to the most glory" would be largely quelled by simply taking part in the obligatory liturgy of the Church for a year (the Mass) and perhaps the optional liturgy, for laity at least (the liturgy of the hours). Then, the devotions and parades and celebrations and hymns honoring the saints are seen as icing on the cake, which they are.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Marc - yea I have yet to find a Filipino parish with A/C! But it kinda adds to the whole experience.

Chad - I think you're absolutely right. Seeing is believing. The most indisputable evidence as for who's really getting the glory from Catholic Church is to go to mass for a year.

Marc said...

The only Church I know of that has AC is the Catheral in Manila. Even that AC are these big hugh blower units in the back that they only turn on during Sunday Mass.

Even the the chapel in the air conditioned hotel I satyed in (daily Mass, in the hotel!) wasn't air conitioned.

I highly recommend the Greenbelt chapel in Makati. It's "open air" and doesn't get too ho tinside.

TheDen said...

Great post.

I am Filipino myself (although born here) and a Cradle Catholic. From what I have heard, Catholicism has gone unchallenged in the Philippines for so long that people there haven't been catechized as well as they could.

I have also heard that Baptist missionaries are going there to evangelize to Catholics.

Two of my cousins in the Philippines were evangelized by Protestants and have converted. Personally, I don't really have a problem with that. If they are closer to Christ as Protestants then so be it. I hope that in their lifetimes they understand the beauty of the message of Catholicism. I also hope they don't fall for the anti-Catholic teaching that they may be exposed to.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

TheDen - thanks for stopping by. I think what you said may very well be true (and it's certainly true of many cradle Catholics in America as well) - that those born into it aren't well catechized. But this is often true of any religion. It is the same for Protestants.

Arguably though, in some cases and on certain topics, Protestants have done a better job educating their population of some of their core doctrines and it's something the Catholic Church needs to work on (and is) in the Philippines, in USA and everywhere. As for Protestantism growing in the Philippines, (much like Pentecostalism growing in South America) I pray for those who have converted and I hope it does bring them closer to Christ. As a Catholic of course, I believe if it leads them closer to the REAL Christ, then it will also lead them closer to His REAL Bride - the Catholic Church.

TheDen said...


Amen, Brother! One thing I do know is that there is a very strong faith in the Philippines. I think that's a strong point for me. No matter how far I wandered off in my life, I always knew that God was there.

Have you read this from Steve Ray's sight?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

No I had not read that. Thanks for the link. I heard Steve Ray speak in a parish near me a few months ago.

I think everything he said about Filipinos is right. I noticed the same things - especially the 'mama Mary' title.

kay said...

I enjoyed your article. :-) I am a Filipina based in Manila and I would like to say I appreciate how you saw the faith rather than the superstitions.

I think it's actually good for the Catholic Church in the Philippines to be on the attack from local sects these days, it grants cardke Catholics the opportunity to discover apologetics.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kay - thanks and I agree about Catholics needing to know why they believe what they believe. We should all be able to give an answer.