In 2021 the Philippine Catholic Church is scheduled to celebrate 500 years of Christianity. Past and present realities, however, viewed through a secular sociological lens puts a celebration’s fit in serious doubt.
The basic contradiction in Philippine society is our simultaneous celebration of the battle of Mactan and Magellan’s cross. We extol Lapulapu as a hero for repulsing a foreign invader yet we also welcome our colonization by Spain simply because it planted (our faith in) Christ’s cross in our land.
Church and state were one in that age. Friars were equally functionaries as soldiers and other officials of the colonial government. Friars administered territories assigned to them like any Spanish feudal lord did in that era, cruelly. But the natives submitted because, given the choice of either perishing by the sword or being “meek and humble of heart” like Christ, they chose the latter.
Friars were Spain’s first line of defense against native revolt. A friar informed civil officials of the planned revolution by the Katipunan, violating the seal of confession in the process. Jose Rizal’s execution was the handiwork of friars he bitterly criticized in Noli and Fili. The faith of the Gomburza priests did not save them from execution for treason. That’s how much the interest of the King trumped that of the faith or cross.
I am not taking away from the friars and their modern-day successors the good they have done. I am not making a moral judgment either. I am only adverting to the sociological fact that the Catholic Church was Spain’s principal tool of conquest and domination, more so than the sword or musket.
Today, the only Christian country in the region is the most corrupt and, as a result, has the worst incidence of poverty.
This is mainly though not solely because today’s Philippine Catholic Church is preaching the same brand of submissive Christianity as that of the Spanish friars. Unwittingly it blesses the status quo as God’s will that a good Christian must bear and gladly join to Christ’s suffering on the cross for “the reward is great in heaven.”
This brand of Christianity is heavy on ritual but light on actions to help suffering humanity. It assumes all suffering, regardless of cause, is God’s will that Christians must bear with Christ-like equanimity.
To celebrate, gloat on, 500 years of this Christianity is to justify more of the same suffering for the poor. But Pope Francis, in Fratelli Tutti, is calling on all peoples to dismantle and replace unjust social structures that are causing massive poverty world-wide. 2021, therefore, should rather mark the beginning of a new Christianity that is light on ritual but heavy on actions for justice and peace.