Discerning the synodality path for Filipinos, Final Part
In the final analysis, discerning the synodality path for Filipinos requires a deeper understanding of where they’ve been and having such knowledge will contribute greatly to mapping out the way forward. Christ’s call for missionary work preaching the Gospel to nations (Missio Ad Gentes) has been accomplished, for all intents and purposes, in the Philippines. Unlike in the earlier centuries when Europeans planted the Cross in many parts of the world, today missionaries from outside the European continent are leading the way. The Philippines has produced more priests that have preached to nations about the Good News.
The Philippines is 81% Catholic and another 10% of other Christian denominations. With these numbers, it is now proper to turn inward, if you will, and help Filipinos have a better life. Over 90% of Filipinos have known Jesus Christ or are Christians. It’s pointless to continue with trying to achieve 100% because Muslim Mindanao has stood its ground for centuries and should just let it be.
About a slightly higher number of Filipinos literally live in poverty. It is no coincidence that countries colonized by Spain are poor or financially dependent on rich Western countries through a democratic concept called neoliberalism. The Philippine Catholic Church can embark on a new role through Missio Inter Gentes (mission among other nations) and to preach within through dialogues with its own people and living their evangelical values.
Missio Inter Gentes advocates that missionaries serve people with respect, and humbly share their lives without any trace of arrogance or superiority, just as Jesus did. This will go a long way in the Philippines. The question, however, is how do the Philippine Catholic Church navigate through the discordant voices and multiculturality?
One way is to define what popular Catholicism is in the Philippines. This is necessary to dispel the implied “wrongness” whenever the West questions spectacles of popular devotions like that of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, Our Lady of Manaoag (Pangasinan) and Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga City. The Philippines is a country with ancient religions and culture that has been influenced by foreign cultures.
Call it Catholicism, Filipino style, there needs to be a recognition of these ancient influences that clearly inspired the country’s heroes during the revolutions. Perhaps Filipino Catholicism is indeed a hybrid but distinctly Filipino.
Religion, however, should no longer impede people’s progress and attainment of basic human rights. On the contrary, it should be integrated into the political, the economical, and the educational for it to prosper. Paul Freire, a Brazilian educator contributed a teaching pedagogy that education should allow the oppressed to regain their sense of humanity, in turn overcoming their condition. Similarly, that the oppressors must be willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own role in oppression, if true liberation is to occur.
Perhaps by reorienting Filipino Catholicism where the common Tao of the masses is central, that those in the fringes of society and those who continue to struggle to rid the country from the clutches of the Eagle and the Cross will be enamored to rejoin society. The Philippines much like Western democracies are nations divided for political and religious contexts. It behooves the politicians and the clergy, then, to have a new paradigm.
It is important for the Philippine clergy to help the government Cross the Jordan River and hope that water will flow too after such crossing. Salvation is important, but in a material world, deliverance from poverty is just as sacrosanct. For most Filipinos, poverty exemplifies what is wrong with Philippine society where it is the poor who suffer the brunt of poverty, disparities in diseases and access to quality healthcare and education.
The economic model where lots of money can be made from the bottom of the pyramid needs to be turned on its head by mandating better wages for salaried workers, better health care, and providing tax incentives to encourage investment into poor communities. The Church can no longer proceed as if the political can be separated from religion, but it does not mean getting into the mud with politics like endorsing candidates.
If a political leader is Catholic, a Christian, then they must be held accountable to the ethical aspects of religion and must be imbued into the consciousness of the Filipino people for them to serve the people better. Only then, that the Oath of Office would really mean what it says. “Preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, AND DO JUSTICE TO EVERY MAN, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation.”
Clearly, the country could no longer turn back the clock or push back the toothpaste from its tube. The colonists brought good things to the country too in many areas and aspects of society. They should not be discarded but rather improved upon while applying the lenses of nationalism. Every Filipino has his or her own genius, authenticity and spirit that needs reawakening to redirect a national spirit towards helping the bigger community move forward. The Church as a community, is a place to start.
Which brings us to liberation theology that Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, a Dominican Priest advocated and pioneered in Peru and the rest of Latin America out of "social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed people.” He was clearly ahead of his time because while the rest of the world focused on expanding the reach and gold of the Catholic Church (Missio Ad Gentes), Fr. Guttierrez focused on the reality of his people and rediscovery of love for their neighbor as central to a Christian life (Missio Inter Gentes).
Gutierrez theology zeroed in on the source of the problems in Latin America – the sin manifested in an unjust culture and defective social structures. If this sounds familiar it is because Pope Francis hammered on this similar theme about corporate greed, about trickle down economics. Liberation theology as espoused by Gutierrez emphasized the dignity of the poor “by prioritizing the glory of God present in them.”
Latin American countries mirror that of the Philippines in terms of the poor’s share of poverty, not only economically but spiritually. Why not apply Gutierrez liberation praxis and attempt to rectify the process by which the faith of the Church builds the economic, spiritual and intellectual liberation of socially oppressed peoples as fulfillment of the kingdom of God?
Lastly, Paulo Freire in his seminal work in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” he intoned that “No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”