This column’s recent three-part article on Pope Francis (March 19, 24 and 26) concluded with a discussion on the three big ways in which Filipinos are wielding increasing influence in the Catholic Church and helping shape its future.
As expounded by veteran Vatican watcher and papal biographer John Allen Jr. in his March 12 talk at Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay, the 80 million or so Filipino Catholics, especially the thousands of clergy and millions of ordinary believers around the globe, are a wellspring of faith in a world where devotion is waning in many places.
In East Asia, the Muslim Middle East, and Europe, Filipinos often form the active core of many congregations, including four-fifths of the 1.5 million Catholics in Saudi Arabia. In America, nearly a thousand Filipino priests serve parishes, and Allen remarked that if those clergy left, their parishes had better just close church.
Notably, too, Filipinos are making up a growing part of religious orders, which are among the groups to whom the Holy Father pays special heed. And Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is among eight Princes of the Church who form a reformist group often consulted by Francis.
Thus, Allen told Filipinos at the start of his talk: “Thank you for what you have done, are doing, and will continue to do” for the faith and the Church.
Live the faith
So what can Filipino Catholics do, especially for the renewed evangelization espoused and mandated by every Supreme Pontiff since the Second Vatican Council half a century ago? Vatican II sought to make Catholicism more relevant and responsive to the modern world; so does the New Evangelization launched in the Year of Faith 2012.
The document “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” produced by the 2012 Synod of Bishops, spelled it out: “the Church … has the task of continuing and making present and real, everywhere in today’s world, the evangelizing mission of Jesus Christ.”
This task isn’t just for the hierarchy and the clergy: “Bishops and priests as ordained ministers, have the strict duty to evangelize. However, this fundamental mission of the Church is also the duty of all baptized Christians.” And the tens of millions of Filipino Catholics, facing the myriad challenges of today’s world, are well situated to showcase in their spiritual and everyday lives what it means to be a Christian.
And that is the first and perhaps most important contribution Filipinos can make to the Church: to show the Christian faith through Christ-like lives. Indeed, our Lord Himself gave that instruction to His disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If Filipinos show the love of Christ in our lives, these actions shall speak far louder and spread the Gospel much farther than endless words. And since countless Filipinos are in positions and undertakings of service, whether in homes and hospitals or in construction and commerce, we are even more well-placed to spread the Christian ethic of being women and men for others.
Live the faith: it’s the best way to spread it.
Celebrate the Eucharist
In thanking Filipino Catholics for what they are doing for the Church, Allen was probably applauding how our compatriots abroad have increased mass attendance and enlivened and enriched the liturgy with song and gesture. This is the second gift Filipinos can offer the Church: the fervor and devotion of our prayer and liturgical life.
Our diligent attendance at Sunday mass and communion with the Eucharist; our novenas to the Sacred Heart, the Santo Niño, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints; and our statues, stampitas, and prayer booklets —all these rites and devotions project the depth, strength and unwavering truth of our Christian beliefs.
That fervor may well have been one major factor in the recent decision of Saudi royalty to provide land for the building of the first Catholic church in the Muslim kingdom in modern times.
With Filipinos filling embassies every Sunday to attend mass, it was clear that Christianity would not stop worshiping even without places of worship. That and Pope Francis’s conciliatory gestures toward Islam must have convinced the Saudis to grant land where Christians can pray to Christ and receive His Body and Blood.
Here at home, ironically, where churches abound, most Catholics don’t go to church regularly. Salesian theologian Fr. Francis Gustilo estimated that 72 million out of some 85 million Catholics in the Philippines are missing at mass. So he urges the devout 13 million to reach out and bring back to church the “unchurched” (see Feb. 24 column).
Indeed, let us worshipping and receiving the Eucharist here and abroad the Filipino’s second great gift to the Church.
Vocations, vocations, vocations
The third major Filipino offering to our Holy Mother the Church is vocations. Allen cites the Philippines along with Nigeria as the biggest source of priests and missionaries, like Ireland in the 19th Century, and Rome in the 17th. “Filipinos are the new Irish,” pronounced the Boston Globe associate editor covering the Vatican.
What can be done to drum up more vocations for the priesthood? That, of course, isn’t just for the Philippine Church, but more so for congregations in the affluent West.
To be sure, we should pray more for the Lord to call more men and women to the religious life. Resolving the issue of priestly celibacy may also help. And perhaps the Church should consider more aggressive recruitment in schools and in traditional and online media, as business, government and the military do.
But perhaps the most effective way to inspire vocations is to speak to children about the religious life in the same admiring way as one does about becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a tycoon, or a president. Surely, being close to God and serving Him and HIs Church must rank at least as high as, if not higher than those other career paths.
Let us extol the life of service to God and the Gospel. Then more Filipinos shall swell the ranks of the religious.
Living the faith, celebrating the Eucharist, inspiring vocations—these are the precious gems that Filipino Catholics can offer our Lord, His Gospel, and our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. So help us God.