‘Think twice’ before calling PH a ‘Catholic nation’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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A Jesuit priest says a reimagining of the country can no longer be founded on an 'uncritical account of Christianity's history in the Philippines'
'CATHOLIC NATION'? The feast of the Black Nazarene, which attracts millions of devotees every January 9, is one of the major events in the Philippines. File photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos should “think more than twice” about calling the Philippines a “Catholic nation,” a Jesuit priest and theologian said, as the Ateneo de Manila University launched an unprecedented journal issue on Filipino Catholicism.

“Many do not think twice about referring to the Philippines as a ‘Catholic nation’ because of Christianity’s overwhelming majority and presence….I propose that we pause before using it,” said Fr Jose Mario Francisco, former president of the Ateneo-based Loyola School of Theology, during the launch on Friday, November 21.

Up to 80% of Filipinos belong to the Catholic Church, but Francisco warned about the pitfalls of calling the Philippines a Catholic nation.

Francisco said: “We must first be aware of the origins and consequences, direct or hidden, in its use. We must also recognize that contemporary Southeast Asia is similarly characterized by demographic and social dominance of particular religions.”

The special double issue of Philippine Studies, an international journal published by the Ateneo, comes two months before Pope Francis visits the Philippines from January 15 to 19, 2015. 

Moderating a forum after the launch, Rappler helped organize the event as part of #PopeFrancisPH, its coverage of the Pope’s Philippine trip. (Watch more in the video below.)

Francisco said he “examined the use of ‘Catholic nation’ in the official collective discourse of Philippine Catholic bishops on nationalism and the nation.”

‘Marginalization’ feared

In his journal article titled, “People of God, People of the Nation: Official Catholic Discourse on Nation and Nationalism,” Francisco argued that the Catholic Church “will have to reexamine” the imaginary of the Philippines as a Catholic nation “in the face of current challenges in the Philippine and global contexts.”

“First, such a reimagining can no longer be founded on an uncritical account of Christianity’s history in the Philippines, or function solely on a deductive pastoral logic in its involvement in social issues,” Francisco said.

He added, “These presuppositions have contributed to the marginalization of those from other religious traditions or perspectives as well as from others within the Church, and therefore to the exclusion of their possible contributions to the Church’s readings of the signs of the times.” 

The journal issue, as a whole, “features 3 themes worth investigating: the relationship between Church and the nation-state, popular religion, and reflections on conducting research,” said its guest editor, sociologist of religion Jayeel Cornelio. (Watch more in the video below.)

The special edition includes the works of the following authors:

  • David Buckley, Paul Weber chair of politics, science, and religion, and assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Louisville in the US
  • Jose Mario Francisco, SJ, professor at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University
  • Coeli Barry, professor at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University, Thailand
  • Manuel Victor Sapitula, assistant professor at the Department of Sociology, University of the Philippines
  • Deirdre de la Cruz, assistant professor at the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Department of History, University of Michigan
  • Josefina Socorro Flores Tondo, associate professor at the Behavioral Sciences Department, College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University
  • Jayeel Cornelio, assistant professor and director at the Development Studies Program, Ateneo de Manila University
  • Julius Bautista, senior lecturer at the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and Peter J Bräunlein, extracurricular professor of the study of religion, University of Bremen
  • François Tremlett, lecturer at the Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts, the Open University in the United Kingdom

Three experts in various fields – Sister Mary John Mananzan, and Professors Randy David and Melba Maggay – also joined the launch as reactors. (READ: What role should today’s Church play in politics?) Rappler.com 

Join Rappler in a 100-day countdown to Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines: a journey from the Vatican to Tacloban. Tweet us your thoughts using the hashtag #PopeFrancisPH!

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.