The numbers don’t always add up in the Philippines



Although it leads the world in baptisms, the Catholic country must remember to be faithful and to defend the truth

More than 1.6 million children were baptized Catholic in the Philippines in 2020. (Photo: Unsplash)

Posted: April 27, 2022 03:30 GMT

Updated: April 27, 2022 03:56 GMT

The Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, Bishop Charles Brown, made this announcement on Radio Veritas the day after Easter Sunday: “I am happy to share that the Philippines had the highest number of baptisms in 2020 compared to other places in the world”.

According to the Vatican Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, or Church Statistical Yearbook, 1,603,283 Catholic children were baptized in 2020 in the Philippines. The papal envoy added that the statistics are “a living testimony to the faith in the 500 years of Catholicism in the country.” After the Philippines come Mexico, which recorded 1.53 million baptisms, and Brazil with 1.12 million.

History tells us that at this time of year, 501 years ago, the first evangelization took place in the Philippines and the first native baptism was administered by Padre Pedro de Valderrama.

Italian author Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan, gave a first-hand account of the historic mass baptism in 1521 which included the chief of Cebu, Rajah Humabon, and his wife, Hara Humamay: “We baptized 800 souls among the men, women and children.

In April last year, Bishop Brown honored the cultural re-enactment of the first baptism in 1521 in front of Magellan’s Cross in Plaza Sugbo, Cebu City. On the same occasion, also in 2021, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu baptized 100 children to mark the start of the three-day preparation for the 500th anniversary of the first Christian baptism in the Philippines.

In 1605, 84 years after the first baptism, Catholic Filipinos became the vast majority of the population and the Philippines became the Catholic bulwark of Asia.

Infant baptism is a sacred tradition, but it seems the Philippine Church for centuries has focused more on sacramentalization and less on evangelism.

This is what the American historian Edward Gaylord Bourne recounted in 1903 when he wrote of the first century of evangelization and how the Catholic Church was firmly established and constantly growing: “Inspired by apostolic zeal … talented and tireless, they [Augustinian friars] worked in harmony with Legazpi, gained converts and checked the slow progress of Mohammedanism.

Fast forward to the 19th century and see how Freemasonry influenced many Filipino intellectuals who were baptized Catholics as babies.

Times had changed, but the tradition of baptizing children did not. The oldest member of the propaganda movement triumvirate, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, was born on August 30, 1850, in Bulakan, Bulacan, and was baptized a week later.

Another member, Graciano Lopez Jaena, was born in Jaro, Iloilo on December 18, 1856 and baptized two days later. His parents were like the rest of the Catholic world who believed that baptism as a sacrament of initiation absolutely removed the original sin in baby Graciano’s soul and made him, in that instant, a precious child of God.

On June 22, 1861, the child Rizal was baptized by Father Rufino Collantes, parish priest of Calamba in Laguna. His mother chose José as a first name in honor of Saint Joseph, adoptive father of Jesus and husband of Mary, to whom Dona Teodora was ardently devoted.

Another Filipino hero was Bonifacio. His first name was Andres because he was born on November 30, the feast day of San Andres, the patron saint of Manila. He was baptized before the end of that same year.

Paradoxically, these Filipino heroes baptized Catholics in childhood hated the Spanish Catholic brothers the most. So the inclination is to ask why.

After 500 years, why do millions of Black Nazarene Catholic worshipers seem to have an inexplicable, almost fanatical desire for the wooden statue rather than the Holy Eucharist?

Infant baptism is a sacred tradition, but it seems that the Philippine Church for centuries focused more on sacramentalization and less on evangelism, resulting in the rise of nominal Catholics, the cafeteria, and the baptism-marriage-funeral and non-believers.

And the most relevant “question of quality over quantity” or QQQQ is: Is a bigger church a stronger and better church?

After 500 years, why do millions of Black Nazarene Catholic worshipers seem to have an inexplicable, almost fanatical desire for the wooden statue rather than the Holy Eucharist?

Why are 1,000 more Catholics lining up to kiss Padre Pio’s relic than to go to confession, making sacramentals seem more important than sacraments?

What about corruption? It might be worth digesting how Filipino sociologist and author Randy David put it: “We have to ask ourselves how we are able to mix so much religious fervor with a culture of corruption, or mix overt devotion to exemplary figure of an altruist. Christ with a life of greed, or gospel values ​​with hatred, oppression and selfishness.

Perhaps a Filipino archbishop was right when, after reading the signs of the times, he said in 2013: “It is religion’s failure to make morality and ethics the foundation of all human actions and undertakings after almost 500 years of evangelical presence”.

His statement was all but confirmed by the Philippine Conference of Catholic Bishops when the bishops acknowledged their prophetic failure in 2019: “We have not been effective enough in our catechesis on the faith.”

What is the use of being a super-majority or a predominantly Catholic nation without commitment and loyalty to Catholic baptismal promises?

Shouldn’t the QQQQ lead to more focused pastoral action by moral leaders?

Are quality standards carefully applied to the parochial administration of the sacraments in the same way that BMW and Honda do for car assembly lines so that the Philippines can perhaps nip in the bud both the problems of nominal Christianity and of the Catholic evangelical emergency? If not, why not?

If mass baptism leads to mass production of members, then what does growth without depth mean? What is the use of being a super-majority or a predominantly Catholic nation without commitment and loyalty to Catholic baptismal promises?

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, former Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, once said during a mass in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, in November 2019: “Christian faith is not a matter of numbers, size or even popularity, but quality is essential”.

The context of what Archbishop Caccia said is this: he was talking about Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Thailand and Japan where Catholics are a tiny minority. “Numbers don’t matter. What is important is to be faithful and to bring the light of truth,” he insisted.

To become again the light of the world and the salt of the earth! It’s more relevant for every Christian to make this world a little better.

* Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano is the author of ‘MCMLXXII: 500-Taong Kristiyano, Volume Two’ (Clarian, 2021) and ’24 MORE CONTEMPORARY PEOPLE: God Writing Straight with Twists and Turns’ (Clarian, 2019). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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