Filipinos Are Helping to Keep the Catholic Church Vibrant Globally in the 21st Century

When we talk about and search for what Filipino religiosity could mean, immediately for Filipinos what comes to mind is Catholicism, our belief in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), our reverence for Mother Mary and the praying of the rosary, our understanding that through intercession saints and angels could have an impact in our daily lives, and a strong love for the Catholic Church and the Pope.

Within Judaism and Islam there are more mystical-based over orthodoxy-based branches. For Judaism the mystical sect are the Kabbalists and for Islam they are the Sufis. It can be argued that Catholicism is also practiced differently globally with certain countries emphasizing orthodoxy like in the U.S.; while in Mexico and the Philippines, the mystical aspects of Catholicism (love for praying the rosary and belief in saints and angels) tend to be more pronounced, relative to other Catholic countries.

Outside of Catholicism and comparing practices of Christianity (of course Catholics are Christians) across nations, Filipino religiosity/Catholicism (the two practically synonymous) begins to look even more unique than, say, Christian Evangelists in the U.S. It’s safe to say, there would be some discomfort in Filipino Christian Catholics leaving the heavily ritualistic Mass in place of a Sunday hours-long Bible studies session followed by a service with a band and preacher.

Ultimately, the expression of religion is heavily cultural and there must be something special about Catholicism for Filipinos to keep their high level of religiosity while Christianity and religion in general are taking a huge dip in popularity in the U.S.

According to Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude survey, 87% of Filipinos consider religion to be very important in their lives. Of the 40 countries surveyed, the Philippines ranked 10th in religiosity.

In contrast, a new 2023 poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and the independent research institution NORC shows under 40% of Americans said religion was very important to them compared to in 1998, when the publication first asked this question, and 62% felt that way about religion.

What’s keeping Filipino religiosity high
What are the elements keeping Filipino religiosity high and our continued fondness for Catholicism? The answers will vary. It could be the mystical aspect over orthodoxy as mentioned above. It could be liberalism relative to more hardline Christianity. It could be the ancient ritualism and shorter duration of the Mass compared to an hours-long service in an environment that doesn’t look like a church, relative to Catholic churches. It could be tradition and being part of a thousand-plus years old church. It could be the social-political undertones of Catholicism linked to the plight of the poor and the marginal. It could be the universality of the Church, its global stature and outreach. It could be all of these and far more not mentioned here.

It’s important to mention that while Filipino religiosity/Catholicism remains relatively high, there are signs of waning due to competition in the U.S. from other Christian churches or the growing secular-humanist movement that sees religion itself as counter productive to a highly advanced society.

There are also those who feel the Catholic Church is not moving fast enough (even with the liberal Pope Francis who some call an incremental revolutionary) to have women in the highest echelons of the Church (some demanding women be allowed to serve as priests) or that gay marriages be recognized.

Within the Catholic Church there is also a shortage in the ministry, an area that Filipinos are helping to fill.

500 years of Christianity in the Philippines
Recently, in 2021, Filipinos globally celebrated the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Catholicism/Christianity to the Philippines.  

How long ago was 500 years? It was a time when the Ottoman empire expanded. China was in its Ming Dynasty era. Michelangelo just completed the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Hernan Cortes leads the conquest of the Aztec Empire. The Protestant Reformation begins. The very last vestiges of power ends for both the Holy Roman Empire and Mongol Empire. The Inca Empire was in full-swing. Columbus freshly landed just decades earlier in North America (1492) and it would take another 300 years before the First Congress is formed in a federal U.S. and the U.S. Constitution is written in 1787.

While the 16th century (or 1500s) is considered by historians the beginning of modern history, the events mentioned above is arguably ancient history to most in the 21st century.

So, the Christianization of the Philippines, least to say, happened during the early stages of modern civilization.

Filipinos helped to build Catholicism in Hawaii, and plays role in global Catholicism
By the time modern Hawaii started, well before statehood, the Philippines (already an established Catholic country) begun to export Catholicism on behalf of the Catholic Church with its first missionary priest Father Ignacio Cordero from the Philippines arriving in Hawaii in 1917. Father Cordero was sent to minister to the spiritual needs of the thousands of Filipino plantation workers.

Since then, waves of Filipino priests were sent to Hawaii. Today, about half of the priests of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu (serving the entire state) are from the Philippines. About 10 Hawaii Catholic parishes are run by Filipino priests.

Filipino priests are in every continent of the world. There are three bishops in the U.S. from the Philippines. There are three Cardinals currently in the Vatican with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, as of 2020, reaching Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, rank of cardinal-bishop, which is the highest rank of a cardinal in the Catholic Church.

As congregants, with over 92 million (84 in the Philippines, 8 million outside of the Philippines), Filipinos are a major force helping to keep the Catholic Church vibrant.

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