‘the one thing they say about Catholics is: They’ll take you as soon as you’re warm’ – Monty Python
I wasn’t born into a Roman Catholic family, but rather a family involved in the Congregational church. This sect is like a fruit shake. Many different fruits, but overall a milder taste of each fruit when blended together with ice cream. If you think I’m suggesting that ice cream should be eaten in church, then you’re missing the point. Few have heard of the Congregational church. Its flavour is so mild that no wars have been fought in its name. There are no Congregational cathedrals and there is no Congregational Pope. There aren’t millions of followers fanatically devoted to the Congregational church. We went to church on a Sunday, said our prayers, sang some songs, sniggered at the woman in the wig with the mole on her nose and went home to Sunday lunch. Life as a Congregationalist was simple and uncomplicated. Sure, we had a cross at the back of the church like the Catholics do but no Jesus hanging on it. The adults in the congregation happily ate Jesus’s ‘body’ and drank his ‘blood’, represented by the small cubes of bread (that always made my mouth water) and little glasses of red grape juice similar to the Catholic and Anglican churches, but as far as I can see that’s where the similarity ends. We didn’t confess anything to anyone. We didn’t have to ask the minister to ask God to forgive us for anything. We did it all ourselves and it worked out just fine.
Then one day I got married. My lovely wife came from a family where the mother was devoutly Catholic and the father was devoutly not. He was Lutheran, but his personal religion encompassed work and the TV, leaving the handling of guilt and sin to his Catholic wife. For the sake of my new family, I agreed to be baptized as a Catholic so that our children would be presented with one religion and would therefore be saved religious confusion. It didn’t matter to me one way or the other. By that time I had migrated in and out of the Methodist church and had pretty much formed my own interpretation of faith, which didn’t involve religion or going to church. So I went along with the charade for the sake of peace. We would go to church almost every Sunday to get the children used to the environment. The rituals involved in the mass always amused me and the best part were the words at the end: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’, to which we would bleat ‘Thanks be to God’ and cross ourselves as only Catholics can. Of course I wasn’t interested in confession or any of the other silly nonsense propagated by the Catholic religion.
They say that every experience in life is preparation for experiences to come and perhaps I became Catholic so that I could understand the Filipino devotion to Catholicism. Having visited the country on many occasions now and witnessing first hand the sheer blind devotion to the church and the Pope, I have concluded that it is the Catholic church that has screwed over the Philppines to an even greater extent than the Spanish or the Americans ever did. Instead of being encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives, the Catholics have the Filipinos brainwashed into believing that being a Catholic can somehow bring them a better life if they go to church, confess their ‘sins’, revere the Pope like a rock star and worship effigies of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, the long-eared donkey and the talking walnut. Uuurm….the last two may not actually be part of the entourage of effigies.
The Catholic church, in return for this love and devotion, commands the masses to avoid contraception of any kind to the extent where there are no condoms to be found on Filipino pharmacy shelves. This seems to be changing now in spite of Catholic doctrine, but only the brave will use them on pain of excommunication. The result of this ‘wisdom’ is massive overpopulation and widespread poverty. Families that can hardly afford to feed two people find themselves having to feed up to ten. And yet, even while clamped in the jaws of poverty, they still worship the Catholic church as if not to do so would somehow lead to an untimely death by the seven plagues. ‘Lucky charms’ can be seen everywhere in Filipino society. Taxi drivers have rosary beads around the rear-view mirror, an icon of Mary stuck to the dashboard and a cross around their neck that they kiss while driving. I’m sure that ‘kissing a crucifix’ ranks right up there with ‘texting on a cell phone’ as one of the the major causes of road accidents. Then there are the Jeepneys. Those lumbering half-Jeep, half-bus diesel-belching people-carrying vehicles found throughout the country. They’re adorned…..no, adorned is too mild a word…..festooned with Catholic imagery in glittery gold, sparkly ruby red and emerald green. I bet Jesus never imagined that his face would one day be plastered on the side of a Filipino Jeepney. Then again He probably never imagined being nailed to a cross either. That must have ruined his day. Life is strange like that. Some of these vehicles are so encrusted with religious paraphernalia that the driver has only a small aperture through which to view the road ahead and the people walking across it.
The Filipino religious festivals are something to behold. The ultimate celebration of fanaticism. However, you have to hand it to the them – they are so loving, joyful, kind and full of fun that when they meld these qualities with the Catholic religion, it results in a surreal fusion of their bright and colorful tribal traditions with the mostly tragic icons and doctrine of the Catholic church. I have just watched ‘Sinulog’, the annual Cebu celebration of the Catholic church and baby Jesus through the medium of dance. Fankly I can’t see how the baby Jesus would care one way or another, being a baby and all, but anyway… The tribal drums with their monotonous fast-paced rhythms along with not-so-tribal trumpets add the sound track to lavish dance displays by groups in colourful, imaginative costumes in front of sometimes breathtaking backdrop scenery. Every dance has some religious thread built into it. Just as we are enjoying a beautiful dance of trees, sunflowers and bees, a massive effigy of Jesus (or ‘Santo Niño’ – The baby Jesus) appears in their midst to shouts of ‘Pit Señor!’ or ‘Viva Señor’ from the dancers. I believe this means ‘Praise God’ or something similar. Most don’t know what it means, but they shout it anyway. The festival starts with a Catholic mass and ends the same way. This is one of the more ‘peaceful’ Catholic celebrations in the Philippines.
Shortly before Sinulog came the’ Procession of the Black Nazarene’ through the streets of Quiapo in Manila. I am told that this is an annual event. I was in the Philippines at the time, but thankfully down in Cebu and far away from the insanity of the procession in Manila. The procession comprises a black Jesus, clad in sumptuous robes, shouldering a large black cross up on a moving float such that those in the crowd below can’t quite touch anything. Of course this just teases the howling, baying Catholic devotees who have turned out in their thousands just to try and bring some luck into their lives by touching the fake cross of Jesus. The Catholic church that they love so much has them utterly convinced that their lives are at the mercy of these effigies. The desperation that this invokes leads to a mass hysteria that is quite frightening to witness. I watched, horrified, as people packed into the area around the float as it made its way up the road towards Saint John the Baptist church. Some (no doubt carefully chosen) assistants in special T-shirts (God’s Guards) were up on the float with the cross. Their purpose appeared to be to fend off aggressors while at the same time catching hand towels thrown at them by people in the throng. They would rub the towel on the cross and throw it back in the general direction from whence it came. I found out that these towels that have touched the cross are considered to be ‘blessed’ and are used in the community to perform miracles such as healing the sick. I doubt they would turn water into wine or they would be a hit with bartenders everywhere. The crowd were pushing, shoving and elbowing their way towards the float, packing tighter ever moment in their desperation. Every now and then, the camera crew would focus on someone who had fainted or been injured in the crowd and we learned later that two young people had died in the stampede to try to get into the church. When I expressed my utter amazement that people could die during a religious ceremony, “This year is much better”, I was told. “Last year 9 people died.” To the Filipinos this seems to be an acceptable statistic given the good cause for which these people died.
It just proves my contention that being a practicing Catholic can be hazardous to your health.
© 2016 WaryWanderer.com