I am sharing my course paper in fundamental theology, submitted last week to my professor.
Cesar Y Granada [cjm]
Popular Religiosity in the Philippines:
A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE OF TRADITION, MAGISTERIUM AND SCRIPTURE
Popular religiosity in the Philippines is not a new phenomenon but rather a unique inculturation of our Faith that makes it relevant to the daily experience of the Faithful. The devotion to the Sto. Niño de Cebu, Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, Novena to the Perpetual Help in Baclaran and St. Jude Thaddeus for impossible cases, and many other pious and personal devotions (panata) have been part of the history of Catholicism in the Philippines. Originally introduced by the Spanish colonizers, these pious devotions became part the identity of a Filipino Catholic until today.
According to the Catechism for Filipino Catholics, we are ‘spirit oriented’ people (#1469). With so much local belief to nature spirits of both good and evil nature, introducing the cult of Mary and the Saints did not encountered any local opposition. We easily identified our life to the various movements of the life of the saints, devotionals to Mary and Jesus and even the mysteries of their lives were venerated and made holy. Church dogmas and doctrines placed accidentally or by intent in our devotionals such novenas, prayer books and rituals is a blessing in disguise as it inculcated official dogmas thru pious remembrance similar to oral tradition. For example, the devotion to the Poong Nazareno highlighted the passion and death of Jesus. The pious remembrance of His passion and death, emphasized the Paschal mystery in an inculturated way where poverty and hardships in life is a source of holiness and sanctification. This emphasis became a liability as well that it make appear poverty as accepted fate. Other noteworthy examples include parents or grandparents pass on us devotions that have inherent doctrinal value such as God as the creator and all-powerful thru prayer rituals before planting time, waiting period and harvest time. Placing crucifix and palm leaves from Palm Sunday in every door in the house, images of Christ the King, Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Blessed Virgin in various titles depending on the personal devotion of the family in every home. Christ is the savior, because we know by heart that Good Friday is the holiest day of the year and all life stops for a day for this special day. Lastly, Mary has been inculturated as “ina” or mother more than a queen who intercedes for us(CFC#1470); this is reflected on our fond devotion of the Rosary, Flores de Mayo, and various Marian titles all over the Philippines.
This paper will explain the phenomenon of popular religiosity or ‘panata’ through Scripture, Magisterium and Tradition. The paper will dwell on some personal experiences that can bring strong emotional attachments to the believers. From those emotions, images and insights will give us the worldview of the Filipino Catholic in facing life thru religion. As we reflect on these images, we will connect Fundamental Theology in trying to understand the Filipino psyche of ‘panata’. In the end, I will offer my theological reflection and learning in the course in articulating this unique Filipino tradition of ‘panata’ vis-à-vis Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium.
I aptly entitled this chapter as ‘panata’ because it captures the significant part of popular religiosity. According to the Catechism for Filipino Catholics (CFC#1765 & 467), the word ‘panata’ is a personal devotion asking for God’s favour (such as but not limited to healing, reconciliation, etc.) to uniquely Filipino sacred images; Sto Niño, Nazareno, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints which only takes place once a year. These personal or communal ‘panata’ comes in participating processions, pain-inflicting mortifications, pilgrimages, and other bodily sacrifice-like professions of faith and devotion. As I see these acts of personal devotions, I feel mixed feelings of anger and frustration, of happiness, gladness, and hope surface as I watch people of various backgrounds and social class becoming equal in front of these devotional practices.
I myself, was a product of ‘panata’ and even all my siblings. My mother, a pious Catholic woman, used to tell endlessly to us her Faith-experience and her childbearing, birth and rearing on all of her five children, as if all these stories were oral tradition whenever she gets the chance to remind us of our affinity and indebtedness to God in the Catholic Church. This personal oral tradition my mother proudly recounts in the nth time, help me also to root my very first contact with Catholicism and I may say, shaped also my vocation story.
I still remember not so long ago, when I myself tried to do a ‘panata’. It was the night of Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Last Supper just ended and halfway through the vigil of the repository; our friends get ready for the pilgrimage to the Virgin of Antipolo. It was __ kilometers from Mandaluyong City to the Shrine of the Virgin of Peace and Good Voyage. For the record, I have been doing it for a number of years with no specific request or petition to God for a favour or miracle. I knew personally that this is just a popular piety of the people and trying it will do no harm. Probably it was my way of penance and thanksgiving as well, for a good life experienced throughout the year. We usually start by 900PM and proceed our way to the national highway. It was a beautiful chaos on our way. We see people from other cities as well, doing the walk like us. Sad to say, there were sporadic or no attempt for organized prayer and reflection as we do the pilgrimage. Some pray the rosary, some talk endlessly to their peers while others make fun with other groups and if you’re lucky enough riots erupt along the way. However, in later years, the Diocese of Antipolo erected Stations of the Cross along the highway to help the pilgrims pray and meditate while walking, but even this idea did not work due to implementation and plain inconvenience. People tend to enjoy walking together with no intention of really praying or meditate. We arrived in the Shrine at 300AM, it was already Good Friday. The shrine of Antipolo is teeming with people and overtly crowded. We inched our way to the very doors of the shrine, whispered some prayers and looked for a place to rest and regain our energy for another walk going home. As the City of Antipolo was crowded that dawn, we have to walk again some two to three kilometers to get a ride from a jeepney or bus. By 700AM, we arrive home, dead tired from the entire journey but feels blessed because we completed it.
Overall, the experience is not bad at all. The experience of ‘panata’ gave me the actual experience of how to fulfill one’s desire to please God in pain and suffering. I feel blessed even without official blessings of priests or accompanying liturgies. A sense of sanctified, by the pain and suffering, envelopes your gut feeling and mind. I feel I took part in the suffering and sacrifice of Christ personally, like Simeon who was a passerby along the way of the cross. I feel happy, a feeling of closeness to God, and a proud Catholic because of my ‘panata’.
Panata and Human Experience
In the book, “Doing Theology,” Lode Wostyn and Jose de Mesa explains the phenomenon of popular religiosity as “folk religiosity.” Folk religiosity can be understood as a superstructure inside culture that responds to a ultimate reality. However, the human response rests particularly in the initiative of the ultimate reality, which reveals and manifests its designs. There are variety of responses between the person and ultimate reality that through time offers a dynamic relationship. The natural ‘religiosity’ of people tend to put reality into something ordered design, existing on its own, as if designed intelligently but is beyond intelligible understanding. This understanding is religion. Moreover, this sense of a grand design or intelligence of universe and life beckons humanity into a certain lifestyle or calling, especially in moments of great anxiety. Thus, religion is “a system of beliefs, rites and practices directed toward the ‘ultimate concern’ of a society.” Basic to religion is the term revelation. Revelation is the offering of meaning and salvation. This meaning or salvation is a human experience of life-giving elements in contrast to reality, momentary and partial experiences of meaning or being saved. On the other hand, revelation can also become a source of death dealing aspects when the original experience of salvation or meaning becomes a fixed set of rules, doctrines, and laws. It becomes meaningless or even oppressive to the dynamic relationship of the Ultimate reality and the present situation of the human person.
Popular religiosity or Folk religiosity in the Philippines is a perfect example of this stagnant reality of Catholicism. It is remarkable to bring up the positive result of inculturation of Catholicism thru the devotions and sacramentals of our Faith – a clear departure from the Roman Christianity but it hit the wall as dead-end. It produced a nominal Christianity in the Philippines, a Faith that is only focused on rituals and devotions but lacking in personal commitment and does not offer any solution to the problems and woes of the society where it is situated. It is in this context, that we need to reflect and judge what went wrong. Popular religiosity is not bad in itself, since it offers means to respond to the Ultimate Reality inside a particular culture and milieu. As it is, it shares the same cultural strengths and weaknesses; a call to discernment is needed if we want to pass from nominal Christianity to a relevant Christian Faith in Jesus.
The following chapters, I will reflect on the popular religiosity in the Philippines vis-à-vis what we learned in Scripture, Magisterium, and Tradition. I will provide the present scenario and call our attention to some needed conversions in doing theology in these pious and popular piety of the Filipino Catholic.
Panata and Scripture and Magisterium
“For most of our people today the faith is centered on the practice of the rites of popular piety. Not on the Word of God, doctrines, sacramental worship (beyond baptism and matrimony). Not on community. Not on building up our world unto the image of the Kingdom. And we say it is because the “unchurched,” the vast majority of our people, greatly lack knowledge of and formation in the faith.” PCP II #13(emphasis mine)
This is the stark reality PCP II described the situation of popular religiosity in the Philippines. We often find Bibles in the homes of our faithful, unopened and full of dust in the shelf, reserved for special occasions or never at all. Yet the inculturation of popular devotions is based from the Holy Scriptures. The Poon Nazareno is the title of Jesus at his crucifixion, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (Jn. 19, 19) Poverty still lingers in our country. In their plight and cries for assistance, the Poon Nazareno has been their primordial image and symbol for their struggle in life. Positively, it portrays the resilience of the Filipino people in poverty and trying times. Due to poverty, they rely on God as their last resort, and their suffering brings them to realization that being poor and in need comes first in the eyes of the Almighty. Negatively, the biblical image of the Poong Nazareno becomes a stagnant image where we divinize unjust poverty and perpetuate it to be status quo. There is no talk of people empowerment and involvement but they let themselves be the foot soldiers of the oppressive, traditional politics and economy.
Panata and Tradition
Understanding popular religiosity as a valid human response to the ultimate reality, we can say that salvation and/or meaning of life can be seen in the intricate drama and feelings of this popular religiosity that unfortunately our faithful cannot see in the mainstream Catholicism in the country. This is echoed by PCP II;
“These religious practices are rich in values. They manifest a thirst for God and enable people to be generous and sacrificing in witnessing to their Faith. These practices show a deep awareness of the attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. They engender attitudes of patience, the sense of the Cross in daily life, detachment, openness to others, devotion.” #172
PCP II decries also the plight of our lived tradition in the Philippines as noted previously (#13). We come to the Church only for devotions and not for the Holy Eucharist. We see the faithful thrive in processions, self-mortifications, and other self-inflicted sacrifices but without regard to the correct catechism of our Tradition especially liturgy and sacraments, and most importantly, the Faith remains a ritual and nominalistic with no ethical demand towards one’s self, one’s neighbor, and integrity of creation.
We are not left in the dark though, and efforts to change the status quo are started inchoately. In Quiapo Church, the faithful receives adult catechism every Friday to supplement the devotional practice and turn it into a mature adult decision to live the gospel values and church discipline. Previously, novenas, devotions and rituals of popular piety stand alone without the Holy Eucharist. Today, an effort from our liturgists produced liturgical celebrations with these sacramental devotions incorporated to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
As PCP II # 174-175 calls for revisions; popular religiosity may it be for Jesus, Mary, or the saints, should always bring us always to Jesus Christ, as our definitive mediator to God. Moreover, a Christocentric popular religiosity calls for a personal and communal discipleship. It should incorporate the Filipino identity, works for the development of the human person, and develops a sense of justice, peace and care for creation. Lastly, popular religiosity should always lead us to evangelization, to encounter the Triune God in His Divine Word in Jesus and proclaim Him in our lives not only in pious devotions but a life of conversion oriented towards love and compassion to all, especially the poor.
Popular religiosity in the Philippines will stay, as it incarnates the wish, hopes and dreams of the Filipino people, provides a clear picture of an inculturated Faith. Through its cathartic embodiment of sentiments of Faith, Hope, and Love it makes available the meaning and temporal redemption many of our people are looking for in their daily life. Through voluntary pain, sacrifice and mortifications, they achieve oneness of soul to the revealing God they encounter in the devotions. It is the task of the local Philippine church to invest on this rich existential meaning to offer more relevant liturgical movements which the faithful can identify and carry with their daily lives.
Scriptures, as the source of these popular devotions and piety, should be found more in the prayers of the devotions and become avenues for introspective reflections. It is high time for the Filipino Catholic to be evangelized and not only sacramentalized as CFC# 1590 places their context inside Catholicism. The Scriptures as inspired by God, can only find its relevance to the human reality if it can relate to the struggles, hopes and salvation the human person aspires for. In this regard, let us utilize the exegetical and mystagogical tradition of the scriptures in bringing a life of discipleship to the believer, that it can help the man and woman of today to be fully human lives that bears the glory of God.
The Magisterium as bishops and priests, in its role as magisterium cathedrae pastoralis (magisterium of the pastoral chair), should be critical in addressing the phenomenon of popular religiosity. The task of transforming them into vehicles of evangelization and renewal in liturgical inculturation (PCP II #172) seems to be a delicate and important task in bringing down the message of the gospel in consonance to the real life situation of the Filipino Catholic. The Magisterium in its local theologians (liturgists) in its second sense as magisterium cathedrae magistralis (magisterium of the teaching chair), should work always in an on-going dialogue with the social reality of the local Church and the deposit of Faith, namely the Scripture and Tradition (CCC#84 & 97) . Secondly, to reflect on the experience of popular piety and religiosity using the same deposit of Faith in transforming the social order so we can bring all things under Christ. (Eph 1, 10)
Tradition, in this particular context, should be open to the local context of the people. A tradition based out of time and static (propositional type of revelation) defeats the purpose of a loving and revealing God. If we are to propose a continuing revelation of God that reveals steadfast love in history, openness to the human experience where God is acting and intervening should be the way of doing theology.
Popular religiosity / piety in the Philippines will stay. The very identity of a Filipino Catholic is incomplete without the reference to popular devotions, and the same identity lacks deep commitment and conversion to live the gospel values.
As we celebrate five hundred years of Catholicism in the Philippines in the year 2021, the inculturation of these devotions should invite us to recollect our past and rekindle the meaning of its presence, to lead us to God and to neighbor. The reality of popular piety in the country is a blessing and challenge to the future of local Church. An inculturated tradition, it gives meaning to our hopes and struggles in life, transforming them to a vivid truth that God is journeying with us. So as not to lost this valued blessing from our past, we are challenged to bring these devotions into a life of discipleship, especially to the poor and powerless. Only then, we can make our Faith relevant into the future of the Filipino people.
 Lode L. Wostyn and Jose M. De Mesa, Doing Theology: Basic Realities and Processes, (Quezon City, Claretian Publications), 30-33
 Ibid., 31
 Ibid., 32
 Richard R. Gaillardetz, By What Authority, (Collegeville, MI: Liturgical Press), 60.
 CFC #679
 Ibid., 680-681