Inculturation of Catechesis and Spirituality in the Documents of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of the Philippines

Resources »EAPR »East Asian Pastoral Review 1995 »Inculturation Of Catechesis And Spirituality In The Documents Of The Catholic Bishops Conference Of The Philippines Ladislav Nemet S V D

Ladislav Nemet, S.V.D.


This study attempts to present the teaching of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines on the question of the inculturation of the Church in the Philippine context.  Analyzing the documents of the CBCP it has become clear that the Philippine bishops are talking about inculturation mainly in connection with two topics: catechesis and creation of a Filipino spirituality.

The centrality of catechesis and spirituality for the process of inculturation seems well-founded, since almost 90% of all Filipinos are baptized in the Catholic Church.  And yet the majority of Filipinos do not know their religion, and do not practice it with enough conviction.  In this situation the main task of the local church is to catechize the Filipinos, to conscientize them as responsible and mature Christians.  Catechesis should lead toward a way of life, in a word: catechesis should give rise to a Filipino spirituality.



1.  Inculturated Catechesis in General

In the documents of CBCP there is more than one definition of catechesis, each built upon certain presuppositions and purposes of either doctrinal, educational, or inculturational orientation.  Depending on these presuppositions and purposes, different elements and characteristics of catechesis are stressed.

An educational definition of catechesis describes catechesis as “the efforts within the Church to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God. so that believing they might have  life in His name, and to educate and instruct them in this life and thus build up the Body of Christ.”  Catechesis is a responsibility of the whole Church, without specifying the different agents responsible for teaching or imparting it.  Catechesis aims to build up the Church and prepare people to live their faith responsibly and maturely.  The main stress is on education, on knowledge, in order to be able to believe and to live according to the faith.

A doctrinal definition of catechesis is found in the  Position Paper of the CBCP for the 1977 Synod on Catechesis in Rome.  In this definition the accent is clearly placed on the orthodoxy of the catechesis, understood as coherence and authenticity in the unity of the universal Church.  At the same time the definition stresses the importance of doctrinal elements.  There is no reference to inculturation of the content of catechesis or methods of imparting it.  Social involvement is not mentioned either, giving the impression of a catechesis detached from real life-situations and abstract in its realization.  The Church is made responsible for catechesis, but it seems that the Church in this passage is understood as the “teaching Church,” made up of hierarchy and Magisterium, leaving out the other members of the People of God.

An inculturational approach describes catechesis as “a process by which Filipino values can be purified, permeated and strengthened by the Gospel values, and the Gospel values in turn are concretized and actualized in Filipino values and patterns of actions.”  Without inculturation, either the Christian message remains alien to the Filipinos, or the Filipinos accept the risk of being alienated from their culture.  Catechesis should be presented with the methods, symbols and expressions of the local cultures.  This implies the use of the vernacular language in preaching and in the teaching of catechesis.

Catechesis, according to this definition, undoubtedly has concrete social implications: through an inculturated catechesis the Gospel can challenge the current value system of Philippine society and Filipinos, calling for a new involvement and commitment in the transformation of the existing economic, political, and social structures.

The different approaches and ideas on catechesis present in the documents of CBCP lead us to the conclusion that for the purpose of achieving an inculturated catechesis in the Philippines, no single definition of catechesis can be acceptable but a model of an inculturated catechesis must be created.  This model should combine the different elements and principles of the definitions found in the documents of the CBCP -- elements selected from the  point of view of their importance for the inculturation of catechesis in the Philippines.

In the documents of the CBCP there is an evident distinction between first evangelization, pre-evangelization and catechesis.  Catechesis is for those Christians who are already baptized.  It means that catechesis as such is not limited to a certain category of Christians, but embraces all groups and members of the People of God, naturally in different manners and on various levels.  There is catechesis for children, for the young, for the out-of-school youth; there is adult catechesis and presacramental catechesis.

2. Principles of an Inculturated Catechesis

A. Inculturated Catechesis is Holistic

Catechesis, to be inculturated in a local church, should be holistic  Analyzing the documents of the Philippine Bishops’ Conference it becomes obvious that the adjective holistic means a totality of various elements of catechesis which, once put together, make up a balanced unity.

A holistic catechesis requires firstly the presentation of the totality of Church teaching, as it is authentically taught by the Church and its Magisterium.  It has to explain to the  catechized the whole doctrine of the Church, contained in the  Gospel and Tradition, with a special accent on the social teaching of the Church with all its practical and theoretical implications.  Presenting the totality of Church teaching means to avoid the  dichotomy of spiritual-earthly that would only concentrate on dogmas, sacraments and abstract moral principles.

Secondly, a holistic catechesis has as its goal and aim not only the intellectual formation of the catechized through giving as much information as possible, but also a mixture of information and knowledge permeated by a formative thrust leading to the realization of one’s vocation in concrete life.

Experience -- of the catechized and of the catechizers -- is an integral part of this kind of catechesis.

B. Inculturated Catechesis Is Hierarchical

Inculturated catechesis in the documents of the Philippine bishops is sometimes characterized as hierarchical and at other times as integral.  Both these adjectives have the same meaning in the documents:  an inculturated catechesis has to keep a certain hierarchy of truths in the presentation of the totality of doctrine.  This implies that some truths are less important for faith in a given context, and that some others have a higher priority because they serve as bases for other truths which in turn are made more intelligible by them.  Additionally, a certain hierarchy in the presentation of the content of catechesis, understood as the communication of the catechetical material, the methods involved and pedagogical principles implicated, can also influence a particular organization of truths.  Thus culture -- the actual life-conditions of people -- and the achievements of sociology, pedagogy and psychology can determine to some extent this hierarchy.

This hierarchical presentation of catechesis implies that it be explicitly trinitarian and christocentric.  The whole catechesis must lead toward Christ, and to an intimate personal contact with Christ in the community of the believers.

Hierarchical catechesis means having a clear idea of long-term plans, visions, aims and goals, and at the same time being aware of the constant dynamics of history and historical processes in a given context and the local church.  For the Philippines it practically means having a long-term catechetical program, while, at the same time, constantly seeking to discover and read the signs of the times, concentrating on the most urgent problems in society and the Church.

C. Inculturated Catechesis Leads towards Inculturated Liturgy and Sacraments

Inculturated catechesis should lead toward a mature faith, which lives, grows and is nurtured by personal prayer, worship, and sacramental life.  Thus catechism and every catechetical action must lead to a meaningful prayer-life and to sacramental and liturgical participation by all the catechized.

This aspect of catechesis is the verticalization of the catechetical process -- a process in which people rooted in their cultural, socio-political and economic context, try to stay in constant contact with God.

Catechesis helps the members of the Christian community to find patterns of prayer and worship that are adequate and correspond to the unique needs of Filipinos.  Thus, inculturated catechesis leads towards an inculturated liturgy.  In prayer-forms and sacramental celebrations, the liturgical expressions should be rooted in the local culture and have life-relevance.  This is the horizontalization of the catechetical process with regard to liturgy and prayer-life: prayer and liturgy are never an escape from reality and history, or from involvement in “earthly” affairs.

The actual liturgical and paraliturgical celebrations which can be found in popular religiosity are of great help in this catechetical activity.  Creative suggestions, based on these practices, can bring about a greater understanding of liturgy and  its role in the lives of believers.  All the Christians who are working on the inculturation of liturgical forms and practices should stay in constant union with their pastors, who are the unifying principle of all initiatives regarding the inculturation of catechesis and liturgy. Consequently, all studies and experiments should be under the guidance of the National Liturgical Commission.

D. Inculturated Catechesis Is Oriented in Justice and Leads toward Spirituality

Considering the relationship between the inculturated catechesis and the present context in the Philippines, it becomes evident that such a catechesis should prepare the catechized for an active involvement in the realization of the social thrust of the Gospel.

Firstly, catechesis has to prepare the Filipinos to discover the plan of God regarding man in this world and the signs of the times which are present in social, political and economic events and phenomena.

Secondly, the Filipinos have to exercise their sensus fidei in the process of discernment and understanding of the signs of the times and find adequate responses to the challenges.  The local church is guided in this process by the Holy Spirit, who empowers and enlightens all members of the Church: the laity, religious, pastors and bishops.  Strictly speaking, it is the sensus fidei, which has a preeminent role in inculturating catechesis among Filipinos.  In sensus fidei all the faithful take active part in the  process of inculturation, once more underlining that it is a communitarian effort and not just the task of highly trained theologians, priests, and bishops.

Thirdly, the Filipinos have to decide on the concrete steps to be taken regarding the basic questions of their existence, politics, culture, economics, self-identity.

3.  The Agents of Catechesis

Catechesis is undoubtedly and essentially “an ecclesial activity.”  The whole Christian community is called to take part in the catechetical ministry.  Nevertheless, not all members of a Christian community have the same tasks and responsibilities or even possibilities in this ministry, but they all have to take active part in the catechizing their environment.

The principle agent par excellence of inculturation of catechesis in the Philippines is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was already present in the Philippines before the arrival of Spanish missionaries; it was He who inspired and animated all the positive and noble religious and cultural practices of pre-Christian Filipinos.  It is the Holy Spirit who even today inspires the Christian community and its members in the process of searching for more appropriate forms for inculturating the content, methods and communication of catechesis.

The main responsibility for the catechesis in the Philippines lies with the Episcopal Conference and the individual bishops as pastors of their diocese.  It is the bishops’ responsibility to maintain the orthodoxy and authenticity of content of catechesis.  They are the guardians of the deposit of faith.  They have to maintain the unity with the universal Church in the matters of catechesis.

At the same time the bishops help the members of Christian communities to read and understand the signs of the times.  They have to listen to the people of God and to the Holy Spirit, active in the world and in the Church, to discern and discover the new directions and ways in catechesis.

Working hand-in-hand with the Episcopal Conference and their respective bishops are the parish priests and the catechists.  The parish priests are ex officio the main catechizers in their respective parishes.  They have to organize and supervise all the catechetical activities in the territory of their respective parishes, collaborating all the time with lay and religious catechists.  These catechists can be generally divided into two categories: professional and volunteers.  Being in the constant contact with the catechized these catechists have the opportunity to present the content of the Gospel as a life-giving reality in the Philippine context.

The Philippines have a large segment of young people.  Since the beginnings of its presence in the country the Catholic Church has taken an active part in the education of youth.  The Constitution of the Philippines allows religious education in all the schools.  This places a special responsibility for inculturating catechesis in the Philippines on religious educators and schools, whether Catholic, public or non-denominational.

In the documents of the Catholic bishops a distinct role is given to the Institutions of Higher Education.  They are called to “elaborate a societal and historical analysis of Philippine society acceptable to Christians and premised by a genuinely Christian world vision and a Christian view of history and man.”  Such an analysis can serve for a better understanding of the Filipino psyche, values and world-view, thus facilitating the elaboration of local images, methods, and principles of communication of an inculturated catechesis.

The Philippine bishops are very aware of the fact that inculturation really happens among men and women on the grassroots level.  “The real inculturation of catechesis is in and among the mass of Catholic Filipinos -- how the faith really operates among them.”  Grassroots agents of catechesis live and create the cultural bases of Filipino Catholics.

The CBCP considers three forms of communities of grassroots catechizers as specially fitting to realize the inculturation of catechesis: the parish, the family, and the Basic Ecclesial Communities.


1. Popular Religiosity and Its Importance for Catechesis.

Philippine Christianity is known in Asia as a religion with many devotional practices and rituals, fiestas and pilgrimages.  These practices are particularly present among rural Filipinos.  But it does not mean that there are no popular religious practices in urban areas: as people move from villages and islands to large cities they take with them their customs.  Eventually, these practices in urban areas, under the influence of secularization and modernization, undergo certain changes, but they do not disappear.

It is fairly unanimously accepted that these expressions of Philippine Christianity are brought about by the Iberian type of Christianity and evangelization.

Popular religiosity is, according to the Philippine bishops, “...a real experience of God and of faith...the concrete mode in which Christianity is incarnated in our people, deeply lived by them and manifested in their existence.”

The first part of the description calls attention to the religious character and aspects of popular religiosity.

The second part of the description, describing these practices and expressions of popular religiosity as “the concrete mode in which Christianity is incarnated in our people, deeply lived by them and manifested in their existence,” is important from the point of view of effective inculturation in the Philippines.  The already existing devotions and practices are the best examples for the incarnation of faith in the Philippine setting.  In them the Filipinos have found a personal and unique way of expressing their faith in a culturally relevant and distinct way.  These expressions and practices of popular religiosity “provide exceptional catechetical possibilities” for the process of inculturation.

Which elements of popular religiosity practices can be helpful in an effective inculturation process?

Firstly, in popular religiosity a specifically Philippine christology can be discovered.  It is centered around the Incarnation: the Christmas season and the celebrations of Santo Ni–o, and the suffering of Jesus: the Black Nazarene, the devotions and celebrations of the Passion of the Lord.  In the celebrations connected with Incarnation a deep love for children and family, a basic value for all the Filipinos is expressed.  In the celebrations of the Passion of the Lord the average Filipinos identify themselves with the suffering Jesus.

Secondly, devotions and practices of popular religiosity are almost always communitarian.  They are celebrated in a community of friends, parents, barrios, parish communities, whole cities.  These rituals reinforce the sense of belonging to a certain group, foster the awareness of self-identity, of cultural traits proper to a given group.  When these devotions are connected with events of the liturgical year, like most Marian devotions and town fiestas, they often bring their participants to realize and practice their ties with the parish or ecclesial community.

Thirdly, Philippine Christianity has a great devotion to the saints, specially to the Mother of God.  In the Philippine setting these devotions have been reinforced with the cultural traits of Filipinos.  On the one hand, the Filipinos like the visible presentation of the “objects” of their devotion (statues of Blessed Virgin, of Santo Ni–o, various saints).  On the other hand, devotion to the saints shows the importance of mediators in Philippine culture.  Our Lady and the saints are venerated as powerful mediators who stand before God and can always intercede for all who ask their favor.

2.  Critical Use of Popular Religiosity in  Catechesis

Not all the expressions and practices of popular religiosity have the same value for inculturation of catechesis in the Philippines.  This statement is primarily based on two facts: firstly, there are problems with the certain rituals, and secondly, the contents of some forms of popular religiosity are not always compatible with the official doctrine of the church.  The Philippine bishops, condemning as pastorally unsound and exaggerated the rejection of all forms of popular religiosity, call for the  purification and renewal of these expressions of Christian life in the Philippines.

The mystery of the Trinity and a theologically balanced Christ-image should be at the heart of all popular devotions and practices.  Catechesis should present a christology where the elements of Christmas and of the Passion of the Lord are balanced by a strong emphasis on the resurrection of Christ, and his presence in the world.  Such an image of Christ should be at the center of all popular religiosity, specially when it comes to the veneration of the saints and, in particular, to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Philippine bishops, in the context of renewal of Marian devotions, specially certain theological principles which can serve as useful tools in the process of purification of popular religiosity in the Philippines.

All expressions and practices of popular religiosity should be doctrinal sound. When it comes to the veneration of saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, there should be a competent critique of their historical sources and authenticity.  This critique must not be a simple verification of historical facts and dates according to the notions of historicity used today in modern sciences.  It seems that historicity should not be understood as a lack of a historically proved event at the origin of certain devotions, but more in the sense that these devotions are not contained in, or compatible with, revelation or the documents of the Magisterium, and socially they are irrelevant.  This last point seems important for the bishops: expressions and contents of popular religiosity should be “modernized”; they should take into account the needs of modern society and Filipinos.  Sometimes this will lead to putting aside some old, traditional devotions and introducing new forms and expressions.

One of the great short-comings with popular devotions is that they fail to call the attention of Christians to social involvement.  According to the critics, the devotions of popular religiosity are not sufficiently involved in the process “of liberating people from social, political, economic, and moral conditioning.”  An inculturated catechesis should broaden the horizon and vision of popular devotions, stressing their socio-political aspects and implications in the Christian community and in the whole society.

3.  Traditional Filipino Values

Cultural values are the expressions of the heart and spirit of a certain nation, the crystalization of sentiments, feelings, and mentality, according to which relations inside a group or society are regulated, and a viable world-view is created.  Although all the cultural values of a given nation are meant to promote an easier and more harmonious co-existence of all the members of the group, values can sometimes take up certain negative aspects which hinder the realization of their primary aim and scope.  The bishops do not exclude any traditional value as negative and thus not useful for catechetical purposes.  Rather, they invite the catechizers to identify the positive, to accentuate and reinforce them, in order to neutralize or even eliminate the negative elements.

In the process of catechization the Christian values should be presented together with the traditional values, because it is impossible to form mature Filipinos first, and then attach the Christian values afterwards.

When it comes to concrete traditional values which shape Philippine society and the world-view of the Filipinos, first mention goes to the family in the broad sense of the word, including love for children and the relationship with elders and relatives.  Positively, the high value of the family can help to promote a family-based catechesis, where the first catechizers are the closest members of the family: parents, elder sisters or brothers and cousins.  The personalism and love for the members of the family can be presented in catechesis as a basis for an extended love and compassion towards strangers, fellow men and women, members of society.  It can encourage concern for the common good of all.  In this way the negative aspects of this family-centeredness can be eliminated or at least counterbalanced.

The negative aspects are expressed in small group centeredness and factionalism, in a concept of unity in society built only on the blood relationships and closeness to fellow men and women only if they come from the same clan or family.

The Philippine culture is characterized by a strong stress of the value of the person.  It is a kind of personalism intuitively felt and accepted spontaneously by the members of families and broader society.  This quality of the culture can be helpful in presenting solidarity and equality among all men and women, created by God in one great human family.

Closely connected with family-oriented values is pakikisama: a fundamental desire of all the Filipino for social acceptance and getting along with others.  This attitude is present in families, greater groups and in total society.  It can be characterized by a tendency towards smooth interpersonal relationship.  Positively, it calls for patience, understanding, self-control, subjecting individual desires to the common good and  goals.  Negatively, it might hinder the development of a mature Christian personality, limiting people’s abilities to develop a sense of individual moral responsibility.

Pagsasarili is another highly appreciated traditional value in the Philippines.  It means self-reliance in the family and social life, the ability to realize oneself in personal and professional life.  The National Catechetical Directory suggest the use of this traditional value as the basis for the concept of human dignity, and self-appreciation in relation to the Holy Trinity.

Utang na loob is a traditional value strongly felt in all sectors of the Philippine society: in the families, ecclesial communities, political and economic life.  People are morally obliged to express their debt of gratitude to people who have helped them in certain difficult situations.  The meaning of this concept is extended towards elders, especially in the family circle, and towards parents and relatives.  Positively, this value can be the foundation of a genuinely Filipino spirituality.  But utang  na loob can easily become a very powerful weapon in social relationship when, instead of creating a deep sense of gratitude, it generates certain types of dependence, where persons lose their freedom of choice in personal, social, or political life because of a debt of gratitude to some powerful personality.

In the context of the apostolate of the tribal Filipinos the bishops call attention to a traditional value among Filipinos, a value which has been gradually forgotten: to live in harmony with the nature and to reject an exploitative approach to the natural world.  An inculturated catechesis will present to the catechized the right and authentic approach of Christians to the earth and its treasures.



Inculturation has to touch the deepest layers of the psyche and values of the Filipinos to bring about a real change in their mentality.  The most effective way of achieving this goal is to create a Filipino spirituality which permeates the whole existence of the Filipinos.

There are different notions in the bishops’ documents to express the concept of spirituality.  Depending on the presuppositions and the sectors of the Church to whom their statements are addressed, the bishops talk about a general Christian life, spiritual life and values or the supernatural life.

As a common feature of all these notions we can discover the call to all the members of the Christian community to live and think, to make judgments and always discern in relation to God, in  the light of the Gospel, and the teaching of the Church.

But the choice of the terms have not been always the most fortunate, specially when it comes to the meaning of the word supernatural.  Sometimes it may have given the impression that supernatural means not being involved in earthly affairs that are somehow antithetic to matters “more” connected with God and spiritual realities.  The root of the problem seems to lie in the  division among the bishops of the CBCP regarding the understanding of the social and political involvement of the local church, the clergy and religious in the public life of the Philippines.  The conviction is slowly emerging that any spirituality that aspires to influence the lives of Christians should take into account the social situation and the commitment of individuals and the whole community in the society and in the local church.  Worldly or earthly affairs cannot be separated from the effort to become mature and responsible Christians.

As for the foundation of a distinctively Filipino spirituality the National Catechetical Directory in 1993 offered certain guiding principles.  According to these principles it is the  deep sense of gratitude that is the foundation of a distinctively Filipino spirituality.

The awareness of God’s gratuitous and constant love for Filipinos should blossom into an act of deep gratitude, a debt that can never be fully repaid.  Spirituality thus becomes the way of “a following of Jesus-in-mission”  or “a Ôwalking,’ a Ôjourneying’ in the Spirit of Jesus.”  The Filipinos following Jesus in the Spirit becomes disciples of Christ.


1. The Sacred Scriptures

The importance of the Bible for the local Church in the Philippines and for the creation of an inculturated spirituality is based on the fact that the Scriptures contain the revealed and inspired Word of God.  The Word of God in the Bible is not only information about God’s plan for humankind; it is not only his way of communicating with us, but it is also a life-giving word, a word with the power to penetrate human hearts and intentions, and to  transform persons and realities into new creations, according to God’s will.

The Word of God exercises its creative and transformative power on three levels.

On the first level the Word of God affects the lives of individual Christians and all people who accept the Bible as the book of God.  Reading the words of the Scripture men and women discover their vocation in the light of God’s plan for humankind and for the Kingdom.

On the second level the Word of God forms a community of believers.  Because of this it is in the community and by the community that the understanding of the Bible should be exercised.  The community, under the guidance of its pastors, in the light of the teaching of the Magisterium and of the Tradition of the universal Church, tries to understand the meaning and relevance of the Word of God for the salvation of all men and women.

The third level of action of the Word of God is in the whole of society.  The Christian community molds a new world-view, permeated by Gospel values, which, in turn, becomes the criterion for fruitful discernment in all matters of community life, whether social, political, economic, moral, or political.  A biblical inspired Christian community will understand that if the working of the Word of God is limited only to individual Christians or to the ecclesial communities but without influence or intention of involvement in the life of the whole society, it would be the negation of the centrality of the Kingdom in the world, leading to the isolation of the Church in the world.

These are the arguments that lead the bishops of the Philippines to proclaim the Bible as “a way of life, a way of a Christian life,” that should be made a “source of spirituality and prayer-life.”

2.  Christian humanism

Any spirituality that claim to be inculturated should be built on a certain anthropological vision.  The Philippine bishops built their vision of man/woman on the elements of a Christian humanism  that is dominantly Christ-centered.

The central element of the humanism of the bishops is the notion of person.  The human person is a unity which cannot be divided.  Body or spirit, sacred or profane, earthly or heavenly, worldly or spiritual -- all these realities should converge into “the manifold concrete symbiosis of one and the other.  This symbiosis discovers its principle, its unity and its richness in the human; it is the person who reunites all.”  This basic vision of the human person has vital consequences. Firstly, human persons are firmly rooted in history.

Secondly, all human persons have as a constituent element of their being capacity to transcend themselves.  This transcendence is exercised on two levels: human persons have the capacity to pass over the limits of their own personalities entering into contact with other human persons, and human persons are capable of having contact with God.

The Philippine bishops connect both these qualities of humankind with the fact that man and woman are created by God who is Trinity.  Trinitarian origin of humankind  is reflected in the social and communitarian nature of men and women.  No human person can live or develop in isolation from other people.  Each person needs others, and at the same time has something to offer to others.

Reading the Gospel and studying the other sources of revelation, it becomes clear that God wants each person to arrive at self-realization in his/her life.  This self-realization has a clearly christic character.  Only in Christ can men and women discover the totality of their being, their vocation, their future.  The equal dignity of each person, based on this christological truth, should be respected in all circumstances, and neither political or economic policies, principles or needs, nor interest of national security can curtail or suspend it.

3.  The Context of the Philippines

The third presupposition necessary to create an inculturated way of life for the Filipinos is the context of the Philippines.

According to the bishops’ documents, the Philippine context is made up of religious and non-religious elements.  The religious elements can be divided into the traditions and practices officially promoted by the local church and the devotions of popular religiosity.  The non-religious elements are of a socio-economic, political, and cultural nature.

The Philippines are a so-called Third World country with all the characteristics that this notion incorporates.  It is a country in development with a very high population growth rate.  The majority of the population, without land or occupation, lives in poverty.  The political situation is not too stable.  The military and rightist groups -- in their effort to pacify the country -- have frequently been too zealous in persecuting anyone who shows great interest in the poor and oppressed, or who addresses the question of labor unions.

In this context can be understood the call of the bishops for a total salvation which should work toward the complete liberation of all Filipinos.  It should be a liberation from sin and its consequences, and at the same time, from all the structures of oppression, injustice, and inequality, thereby making the Filipinos more human, and more realized in their dignity and rights.

4.  Rootedness in Christ

The Philippine bishops never cease to stress the essential role of Jesus Christ in the life of a Christian founded on “the reception of baptism.”  Christians become rooted in Christ, realizing in their lives the same value system as recognized and lived by Jesus.

But the rootedness means even more: it means taking part in the priestly, kingly and prophetic functions of Jesus.  Through participation in these three function of Jesus Christ Christians realize a unity and harmony in the world; a unity among all men and women, and a harmony within all creation.  The degree to which Christians are able to realize these functions of Jesus, will determine the extent to which they will be able to become mediators of Christ and actualize his presence in the world.

5.  Personal and Communitarian Conversion

Filipino Christians, seeing their personal life, and the life of the society in their country, must necessarily acknowledge that what they observe is not always permeated by Christianity.  Apart from natural events and circumstances that are very much part of this situation, like typhoons or earthquakes, undoubtedly, the major source of the problem of the Philippines must be found somewhere else: in personal and in social or structural sins.

To heal and change this situation there is a need of a personal and societal conversion, “... a change in heart, a change from the covetous to the generous... this change must be effected in all, in the leaders as well as in the citizens of the community.”  The greatest problem lies in human hearts.  In order to transform these hearts and effect the actual social structures in the Philippines there must be a return to the heavenly Father, to His love, to His compassion.

As sin may be not only personal but also social, conversion is likewise addressed not only to individuals but to groups, organizations and the whole of society.  After calling the Christians to conversion the bishops are not afraid to admit that the whole local church is in need of transformation.  The local church needs to seriously examine its conscience and admit that it has not always been faithful to the Lord’s call for holiness.



a.  Filipino Spirituality is Communitarian and Differentiated

Being rooted in the same Christ, called to the same universal vocation, every Christian spirituality has to be communitarian by nature.  Individual Christians should strive through their lives to realize the communitarian ideal of sharing common resources among the faithful, religious and clergy, members of the hierarchy and all other Christians, in reciprocal love and help.  The communitarian nature of Christian spirituality means accepting all the members of community with the same openness, avoiding all discrimination or exclusion based on economic, political, national or racial grounds.

Equality in dignity of Christians and the communitarian features of an inculturated spirituality do not mean that all the members of the community can or should practice or express their way toward holiness in the same way.  There are various forms of discipleship, and in consequence various forms of spirituality.  The bishops frankly admit that in the past there was hardly any difference between a spirituality of the clergy and the spirituality of the laity.  The laity were encouraged to try to follow and imitate the spirituality and the practices of the clergy.  But with the teaching of Vatican II and the development of the theology of the laity it became more and more obvious that every Christian has his/her own way of being disciple of Christ, a way that is neither worse nor better than the way of the clergy and religious, but being different.

The essential difference between lay and non-lay spirituality is based on the field of involvement of the laity on the one hand, and the clergy/religious on the other.  Members of the laity have a special vocation and responsibility to seek the Kingdom of God “by engaging in temporal affairs.”

The laity through their lives in families have a special role in forming these fundamental cells of the local church.  In doing this they spread the spirit of the family in society as well.  The laity have the major responsibility for creating conditions for maximum development and the fairest distribution of the wealth of the nation.  Through their presence in all sectors of public life they witness to the Gospel values, trying to sanctify and transform society “to the image of the Kingdom.”

In the documents of the Philippine bishops a special importance is given to the spirituality of the priests.  The priests continue in their lives and priestly ministry the priesthood of Jesus Christ in this world.  The work of Jesus was religious in character: “The central work of the priesthood of Jesus Christ is the work of religion - bringing God’s Word and His Sacraments to man and reconciling man to God.  This must in every case remain the primary emphasis of our work.”  The central part of the lives of all priests is the sacred ministry: the ministry of the Word, of the Sacraments, and especially the Holy Eucharist.  His ministry will be even more fruitful if accompanied by an authentic life of witness and integrity.  Because of it a specifically priestly spirituality could be described as a ministerial spirituality.  It does not mean that priests are not taking part in the public life of society, but all their activities should be dominated by this religious concern.

The spirituality of religious is based on the special place and role that the religious have in the local church.  Through their life and spirituality the religious are called to give a radical communitarian witness of a committed Christianity.  They try to live and put into practice the model of radical discipleship.  In contemplation, prayer, living together, in apostolic activities, they try to embody peace, justice, freedom, and other values of the Kingdom.  Through their radical witnessing to the Kingdom they challenge the local culture on such vital issues as the plight of the poor and poverty, the degradation of the dignity of human body and sexuality, and lack of obedience and respect for authority.

b. Filipino Spirituality is Nourished by Liturgical and      Paraliturgical Celebrations

Catechesis, when presented in a meaningful and inculturated way, leads the catechized towards participation in the liturgical and paraliturgical activities of the community.  Consequently, from participation in liturgical and paraliturgical activities a peculiar Filipino spirituality can develop.

Any integrated spirituality in the Philippine setting should be an Eucharistic spirituality.  On the other hand, the Eucharist with its vertical dimensions unites the Christian through Christ with the loving Father, making Christ present among believers.  On the other hand, the horizontal dimensions are expressed in love for neighbors and in the call for the realization of the missionary dimension of Christianity.

The various celebrations connected with the person of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season (Aguinaldo mass, Santo Ni–o) and with his Passion and Resurrection (Black Nazarene, Passion plays during the Holy Week, visits to the Churches, the Resurrection celebration) can shape the mentality and life of Filipinos.

A strong Marian piety and devotion to the saints should characterize Filipino spirituality.  The Filipinos, in their quest to become the disciples of Christ, journeying in the Spirit of the Lord, should follow the example of Mary and live according to her example.

A spirituality with Marian characteristics will focus on the role and dignity of women in the Philippine society, on the  preservation and development of Christian families and family values.


a.  Filipino Spirituality is Peace-riented and Advocates Non-Violence

Philippine society in the last 25 years has been increasingly involved in violent clashes between different armed groups.  There is a culture of violence in the Philippines, a fact that the Catholic bishops cannot ignore.

In response to this culture of violence, the bishops want to promote a spirituality of peace and non-violence.  The basic attitude of all the disciples of Christ in this situation of violence should be a genuine struggle for peace, based on justice and reconciliation, achieved by non-violent means.

The bishops base their efforts on the Gospel values and on traditional Filipino cultural and psychological traits.  Filipinos are by nature peaceful people who try to avoid personal confrontation and its consequences.  They would rather not resolve a problem than enter into conflict with others.  Additionally, there is a high esteem for life in all its forms: love for the unborn children, for infants, for elders, a sense of solidarity with the sick, oppressed.

Peace is not only the result of human actions, struggles and intentions.  The real source of peace is Christ and his sacrifice on the cross.  Through his life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ restored peace with the Father.  He brought peace to humankind and to all people.  This peace is given to all by the Spirit of the risen Lord.

The peace of Christ should be realized not only in the lives of individual Christians but even more in the whole society.  This peace is more than absence of war.  It means constructing a society of justice, where every member has equal dignity and opportunity for a full human development.  Justice is “authentically Christian when there is a ... radical turning away from sin against God and others, a sincere openness to love and acceptance of all people.  As a consequence, the political system should be brought more into harmony with the Christian principles of love and solidarity.

An initial step in achieving peace in the country is reconciliation.  Reconciliation should be based on God’s plan that all the people are called to live as one family in unity and love.  An integral part of reconciliation is forgiveness.  The Filipinos have to learn to forgive all the offenses and sins committed against each other, all the forms of oppression that have characterized their lives.  But forgiveness remains an empty gesture if not combined with the already mentioned action for justice and love.  Thus justice and reconciliation are the two necessary bases on which to create a society of peace.

From the documents under study it becomes clear that the only way of establishing peace in Philippines is by non-violence.  Nothing can justify recourse to violence as a method of solving problems or achieving peace in the country.  The ideology of class struggle which supports violent means for revolutionary purposes is contrary to the Gospel. It is true that the official Church’s teaching permits the use of violence in certain strictly specified and extreme circumstances, but even in such cases “what is ethically allowed is not necessarily evangelically recommended by the Gospel.”

A special responsibility in achieving peace in the Philippines falls to those members of the local church who are professionally involved in the formation of consciences and public opinion in the country.  Priests and seminarians, religious and lay faithful are strongly reminded that they cannot foster or advocate violent means in order to achieve a more just, peaceful society.  And as a proof that a peaceful, non-violent revolution is possible, there is the example of the 1986 February revolution in the Philippines, popularly called the EDSA-revolution.

b.  Filipino Spirituality is Environment Conscious

God created humankind and all other creatures in order to give them a share in his life.  Life, being a gift of God, implies an obligation for all creatures to accept, nourish and develop it according to its inner natural laws.  In this plan a special place is allotted to the human person who is the center of all creation.  Unfortunately, when the Philippine bishops look at their country, with deep sorrow they acknowledge that life in the Philippines is in danger.

The phenomenon of environmental destruction, and consequently its danger to human life, requires from Filipino Christians an answer of faith, of spirituality.  And an answer of faith which becomes spirituality has to acknowledge the centrality of man/woman in the universe, but in the light of Jesus Christ.  This means that the centrality of the human person is relativized by two very important theological principles.  The first can be  expressed as the primacy of the Kingdom of God: “More and more we must recognize that the commitment to work ... to preserve the integrity of creation is an inseparable dimension of our Christian vocation to work for the  coming of the Kingdom of God in our times.”

The second principle can be deduced from the first one: because the whole creation is for the Kingdom -- and ultimately for God -- men and women are not absolute owners or rulers of the  creation, they are only its administrators or stewards.

Stewardship and administration requires a sound and organized approach to the treasures of the earth, sea and atmosphere.  Positively, it means the conservation of the environment.  Much effort should be employed in preserving the remaining rain forests and coral reefs of the Philippines.  But conservation will be only a partial answer to environmental problems if people fail to recognize another aspect of stewardship: the healing of the environment and the construction of a human-friendly environment which should be based on a respect for creation.

Help to create an environmentally conscious spirituality in the Philippines can be derived from two elements of the traditional Filipino culture and belief system.  The first element is the common belief in spirits among a majority of Filipinos.  This religious trait, through an inculturated catechesis, can lead toward a deeper understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in creation and his presence in the world.  Consequently, the Filipinos will appreciate and try to conserve and develop all creatures.

The second cultural trait is found in the traditional values of tribal Filipinos: “Our forefathers and our tribal brothers and sisters today still attempt to live in harmony with nature... Tribal Filipinos remind us that the exploitative approach to the natural world is foreign to our Filipino culture.”

It is difficult to imagine today a world without development, that is a traditional use of the earth’s resources and treasures, and the Philippine bishops are surely very much in favor of such a development.  But it should be for the common good of all the members of the human family in the Philippines.  If this rational use turns into the amassing of vast wealth for the benefit of a very small group of people, it then becomes an exploitative approach to the natural world, an approach which is contrary to the Gospel and to traditional Filipino values.

c.  Filipino Spirituality Has a Love of Preference for the Poor

In the present moment of the history of the Philippines around 50% of its population is living below the poverty line.  Because of

this they are sure that an inculturated, integrated spirituality, must be distinguished by a love of preference for the poor.

Poverty in the Philippines can be characterized as material and spiritual.  There are many who do not have enough to enable them to live a decent human life, to provide education or even basic health care to members of their families.  These are the materially poor.  But there is a numerous group of Filipinos who are spiritually poor, because they have  been blinded by materialism, consumption and hunger for power and wealth.

The first step in the love of preference for the poor is to take note and to understand the situation of the poor.  This understanding is not so much of intellectual order but of personal immersion: living with the poor in their actual conditions.  Immersion with the poor should have a concrete consequence for the  poor as well: to empower them to find ways of fighting against poverty, to come out of it.

The awareness of the scandal of poverty has led Christians to take up concrete steps to improve the conditions of the poor.  Individual Christians and communities are sharing their goods, both material and spiritual; they are speaking out against the unjust social structures which perpetuate mass poverty in the Philippines.  The local church, through its different organizations, has already set up a network of offices with human rights lawyers and volunteers to help the poor pursue their rights.  In this way the local church wants to become a prophetic voice in the society, the defender of the poor and oppressed, marginalized and weak.

But there is more to be done.  The local church should more generously share its material wealth and resources with the poor.  And paradoxically, as the Church becomes poorer, the authority of its voice, the effectiveness of its evangelization efforts become more powerful, more successful.  In the evangelizing mission of the local church the poor should be evangelized in all circumstances, even if they cannot materially help to support or maintain the cost of this evangelization.  And, in consequence, the poor have to become evangelizers as well.  Through their generosity, acceptance of sufferings and participation in the Passion of the Lord, they can teach the whole local community what it means to be a Christian.

d. Filipino Spirituality is Missionary

The awareness of being sent to evangelize is experienced in  Filipinos and the Philippine Church in recognition of the fact that in the history of the Philippines, in its weakness and failings, successes and strengths, the Lord has been “patiently walking with us throughout.  And He has dealt wondrously with us.  We cannot but respond in truly Filipino utang na loob.”  It is  the same deep sense of gratitude which should be at the foundation of an inculturated Filipino spirituality.  Utang na loob, as the subjective reason for missionary activity, and utang na loob, as the foundation of Filipino spirituality, mean that any spirituality which claims to be called “Filipino,” must be a missionary spirituality.

Mission consciousness ad gentes has lately been an distinctive mark of the Philippine Church.  Being the only Christian nation in Asia and the Pacific, Filipinos and their bishops feel a special vocation to become missionaries of these regions.  This  sense of mission cannot even be suppressed by the tremendous needs of the local church in the Philippines.  The Philippine Church is still relatively  dependent on Western personnel.  There are fields of evangelization in the Philippines that require heavy investment in human and material resources.  But all these facts cannot hinder the missionary zeal of the Filipinos and of the Philippine Church.

All the members of the local church are responsible for  missions ad gentes  but the lay faithful have a particular role.  Missionary vocations will blossom in Catholic families with strong spiritual life where faith is practiced and transmitted.  These missionary vocations are often lay vocations -- lay women and men who leave the Philippines to proclaim the liberating message of the  Kingdom.  Even the first canonized Filipino was a lay missionary, Lorenzo Ruiz, who died as a martyr in Japan.  In addition to these lay missionaries there are a great number of Filipino lay faithful who have left their country in search of work and prosperity.  In the various environments in Asia and other continents where they live, they have a great opportunity to become missionaries.



According to CBCP inculturation is a long process which began in the Islands with the arrival of the first missionaries.  The results of this first “inculturation” are the practices of popular religiosity.  In continuing the inculturating process a greater use should be made of these practices.  Naturally, not all the practices of popular religiosity can be used as examples or catalysts.  All practices should be subjected to a sound critique and be in harmony with official Church teaching.  Some questions remain: if these practices are made harmonious with official Church teaching and are used with a sound critique, will they not lose their attractiveness to their followers?  Instead of bringing about a deeper inculturation might not this process actually destroy them and alienate the masses?

The cultural values of the Filipinos can serve as a good base for the inculturation of catechesis and expressions of an incarnated spirituality.  They are, unfortunately, too often turned into negative forces in society and inpersonal relationships in general, because of their improper use.  Inculturation should challenge the current values with the values presented by Jesus in the Gospels.  From the interaction of these two sets of values a unique brand of Filipino Christianity will emerge.  This happens not only on the visible level but even more on an intellectual and cognitive level, which is at the same time expressed and associated with the practices and forms of life of the local church and culture.

Although the Philippine bishops acknowledge the role of grassroots agents in the process of inculturation, it seems from the documents that the role of the “hierarchical” evangelizers is much more important for the success of this process.  One might speak about “top-down” and bottom-up” inculturation.  According to this classification, the teaching of CBCP might be put into the “top-down” class of inculturation.  This does not mean that the “bottom-up” elements are not mentioned, but they take on a secondary role.

  • Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL) in Spirituality and Leadership
    Aug 04
    Nov 30