Fight for souls in philippines
Updated: May 30, 2020
he Roman Catholic Church here is facing what some consider its most serious challenge in 450 years of spiritual dominance in the Philippines-evangelizing by fundamentalist Christian groups also known as evangelical or born-again Christians.
”If these people want to proclaim Christ, fine, but they are hurting other people in the process,” says Cardinal Jaime Sin, 55, the gregarious archbishop of Manila and best known Filipino prelate.
”It sounds to me that the Catholic Church is feeling quite threatened,” says Theodore Martinez, an official of Campus Crusade for Christ, a U.S.-based organization active on 60 Philippine campuses.
Although there are no precise statistics, the Philippines claim to be 80 to 85 percent Roman Catholic, making it Asia`s only predominantly Christian country.
But there are compelling indications of a fundamentalist run on the Roman Catholic flock. According to the Philippines` Securities and Exchange Commission, about 580 new non-Catholic religious groups were established in 1988-89, double the average for 1986-87.
A dozen locally produced and more than 10 foreign television shows bring the fundamentalist message to Philippine living rooms each week.
”These people want to have a vertical (direct) relationship with God,”
Cardinal Sin says. ”We believe in having a horizontal relationship with God- since God is in each of us, we must love our neighbor.”
Loving one`s neighbor in the cardinal`s style meant taking to the streets in 1986, to protest and eventually overthrow the government of Ferdinand Marcos.
When Marcos` top men defected, it was Cardinal Sin himself who put out the call for support of a new government over a Catholic radio station.
The ”miracle of EDSA,” as the mass action is commonly called, refers to the intersection where Filipinos who responded to the cardinal`s call gathered by the millions. Corazon Aquino, a devout Roman Catholic, was swept to power. Aquino`s penchant for prayer and consultation with clergy before making decisions has caused her administrative style to be labeled ”management by miracle.”
Although Aquino has been admired for her devotion, the close alliance of church and state is too close for some-and one of the reasons Catholics are drawn to the less political charismatic movements.
”I took my daughter out of Catholic school because the nuns brought her to street rallies,” says Rita Bubon, a recent fundamentalist convert. ”I just want to praise the Lord and raise a Christian family.”
What do Catholics and fundamentalists disagree about?
”They say we worship images-but if I look at a picture of my mother for upliftment when I feel sad, am I worshiping her photograph?” Cardinal Sin asks.
Fundamentalists have protested the construction of a statue of the Virgin Mary at the EDSA intersection.
More serious disputes revolve around the stances taken by the Catholic Church and the evangelical groups on the Philippines` illegal communist movement.
During the Marcos regime, many disenchanted Catholic priests adopted a liberal attitude, some promoting ”liberation theology,” a few even defecting to the New People`s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
But as early as 1986, Cardinal Sin issued an unprecedented ”Catechism on the Involvement of Priests in Political Activity,” which warned the clergy against adopting communist ideology and said priests ”should not campaign for any political party or candidate.”
The Catholic Church has expressed concern about the government`s Civilian Home Defense Forces-organizations of village toughs given guns to fight communists-mainly because these poorly trained civilians have been known to shoot first and ask questions later.
Rev. Carl Schmitz, a missionary priest from the Chicago area, was killed last year by a defense force member who appears to have misunderstood the priest`s motives.
Cardinal Sin says the Catholic Church is a promoter of human rights. He laments that this is sometimes confused with support for the Communist Party. ”We are not and never have supported the Communist Party,” he says.
Although generally apolitical, many fundamentalist groups are adamantly anticommunist. One Catholic newspaper reports some groups are distributing comic books that claim ”communism was created by the Vatican.”
Last month, the National Alliance for Democracy, a right-wing anticommunist organization held a convention. Born-again delegates were in abundance.
Besides the hand clapping and tearful tales of conversion that are hallmarks of a born-again rally, picket signs depicting Satan as a communist were not uncommon.
The Catholic Church has also been outspoken about land reform-pressing hard for the implementation of a recently legislated Comprehensive Land Reform Program.
This position threatens many of the landed gentry, who it seems would rather have a ”vertical relationship with God” if their property is at stake.
Although there are no statistics to support the contention that middle and upper class Catholics are those making the switch, participants at fundamentalist rallies appear to be well heeled.
Cardinal Sin`s battle cry: ”How can you preach to a hungry stomach?”
has more mass appeal.
At the very least, the battle over souls has enlivened the somewhat dowdy Catholic Church. The church has made a request to lease a government television station in a bid to compete with the fundamentalist airwave appeal. Asked if the Catholic Church is serious about changing its image, Sin`s smiling face grows serious.
”We mean business,” he says.