After Pope Francis' visit: Tale of 2 churches













(PDI Editorial Cartoon)


Guest Editorial

Not just celebration but introspection. That is what Pope Francis' visit should (have brought) about for Filipinos, Christian and non-Christian alike, Catholic or Protestant, church-going proselytizers or radical propagandists.

For instance, what does it say that Asia's largest Roman Catholic country is likewise one of its most corrupt? That in a country where 80 percent of whose 100 million people are Roman Catholic, the gap between rich and poor is so appalling that Louis Vuitton and Hermes shops, and Jaguar and Lamborghini dealers, coexist with children begging on street corners, homeless families living under bridges, and slum-dwellers feeding off food remnants in the garbage?
That in a nation where more and more mothers die during childbirth, the clergy has zealously opposed the Reproductive Health Law that broadens access to contraceptives? This, despite evidence that family planning helps poor couples cope with poverty and actually lowers abortion rates? That a misguided priest has publicly praised fecundity as God's gift to Filipinos because it produces more Filipinos to be sent abroad as domestic servants, ill-treated, underpaid, and sexually abused?

Conscienticized Filipino Catholics have long agonized over the self-contradictions of their chosen faith, but it should perplex them even more than it is conceivable, even calmly accepted, that in the Philippines one can be Catholic and not have a conscience.
They must understand that they actually swear by two churches.

There is the institutional church, full of pomp and pageantry, dominated by well-defined hierarchies that reign over pelf and glory. There the faithful piously live their faith through prayer and ritual.

It's even worse when ritual is localized and we end up with that overpowering show of devotion (early January) at the annual procession for the Black Nazarene of Quiapo. So overpowering that two people lost their lives. The first was a 44-year-old man, an "official escort" of the icon's carriage, who had a heart attack and whose limp body couldn't be brought to the waiting ambulance because no believer would yield precious ground. The second was an 18-year-old boy, whose leg was caught in the rope surrounding the carriage and was trampled upon by the surging crowd. His battered body was marked by footprints on his T-shirt which bore the words "Children of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth." A friend recalled his last words: "Ama, Ikaw na po ang bahala sa akin" (Father, I leave my fate to You)—which familiarly echoes one of Jesus' traditional "Seven Last Words" at Calvary. Surely such devotion flows straight from the heart, but it is certainly bewildering.

Then there is the transformative church that lives the spiritual life in social action. A generation of seminarians, priests, nuns and lay activists have chosen to live in the slums and in the countryside. They find their apostolate in concrete projects to empower and liberate the poor. And if somewhere along the line they step on the toes of the rich and powerful, they have willingly placed themselves in harm's way if that is what it took to fulfill God's will on earth. These activists live their faith outside the temples of worship, and see the face of God in the face of the ordinary Filipino. Like Francis of Assisi, they believe: "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words."

The papal visit poses a dilemma: In Pope Francis, these two churches converge.
The Pope is the embodiment of the institutional church. He stands at the apex of the entire power structure of the "one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church." He appoints the cardinals and bishops who will guide the flock. He commands the allegiance of his faithful, and tells them what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.

But he has also said, "How I would like a poor Church, and for the poor." That poses a challenge to the Filipino Catholic clergy, which has always been rather close to those who wield earthly powers in our country, a sad legacy from its historic role in the early years of colonial conquest. He challenges the clergy's more traditional lay followers, who may find temple worship as a substitute or excuse for real-life engagement with those who need their help.

And he beckons both the activist and the disillusioned Filipino Catholic back to the fold, and offers the blessings of his high office, the imprimatur of the Vatican no less, to those who feel Christ's spirit in the proverbial Smokey Mountain.


(Philippine Daily Inquirer)


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