Two-faced Catholicism?

Before moving to the Philippines, we had heard several very disturbing stories, including, of course, those about local Filipinos who put themselves through the same suffering that Jesus (supposedly) did during his final hours (yes, up to his crucifixion). They drag crosses considerable distances finally letting others hang them on it.

The good news is, so far, we have yet to see anything like that, but we certainly have noticed the importance of Catholicism here. Churches (or places used as churches, like malls) are always full of people – it doesn‘t matter if it‘s Sunday or any other day. The whole week before Christmas is especially hectic even for Robertas and me, with seemingly everyone waking up before 4 AM to rush to churches. Not only to hear mass but also hang out with friends and relatives. I asked our helper about this custom once, and he simply told me that he wasn’t that kind of Catholic. I believed him, naturally, since I have never seen him wake up that early.

In family life, for example, the church also plays a disproportionately significant role. Divorces are not possible in the Philippines. The only other country which forbids divorce is the Vatican. If you decided to go through life with one person – please do exactly that. That‘s what the Catholic church has decided, and the government went along with it. Of course, nowadays, several exceptions allow divorce, but it‘s way more complicated than I think it needs to be.

Divorces are not possible in the Philippines. The only other country which forbids divorce is the Vatican.

Right now, you’re probably thinking that sounds pretty crazy, but what if I told you that that I’m only getting started?

What I find really puzzling, though, is how Filipinos seem very devoted to following one rule while being completely apathetic to another. As I have already mentioned, divorces are almost impossible most of the time, and that‘s probably why a lot of people are not married now. Most of the Filipinas I’ve gotten to know are not married and have at least one child. If I remember correctly, the Bible clearly says that adultery is one of the biggest no-nos. So how is it possible to have children without marriage without committing adultery? I’ve only heard of one immaculate conception after all.

I do understand those women, I really do. They are strong and brave; they can take care of children by themselves. I do not fault them for that at all. This way of living probably comes from Western influence. But that’s beside the point. It still doesn’t make sense that Filipinos agreed to the rule of not divorcing, but they seem perfectly fine with having children without marriage. “But, Raminta, love and relationships are always complicated!” Sure, but I’m not done yet.

Another thing I have heard more often than I would like is to not carry my bag on the streets here. It is better to have a small purse I can keep my eyes on all the time. This counts even in churches because some Filipinos, they say, have sticky fingers.

It hadn’t even been two days since we arrived, and some friendly locals decided to “educate” me. I only realized that something was wrong when I heard a guard shouting at me. I turned to see him gesturing frantically and pointing at his back. Puzzled, I checked my backpack and found it open. My wallet was nowhere to be seen.

I’m fairly certain I’ve heard about a commandment to not take someone else’s stuff.

Anyway, that story did have a happy ending. After around two months, I got a message on Facebook – another guard had found my wallet and was hoping to give it back to me. We met and I got my pursue back. All my documents, cards – even my funny Robertas photos—everything was there, minus the cash. What a pity – I had already blocked all the cards! Nonetheless, the feeling was still good – it was sincere of the guard to look for me on Facebook and return the wallet. God bless that person. I am pretty sure he is one of those who go to the church at 4 AM.

With the guard who found my wallet and gave it back to me.

But the most alarming story I’ve heard since coming here is about jeepney drivers who take hit-and-run to a whole new level. Instead of helping and maybe paying compensation, they would rather run you over and make sure you don’t get up. Of course, it’s probably just a story, but I wish they were all just stories. If the papers are to be believed, at least, murders are common enough to make me wonder what part of “you shall not kill” was difficult to understand?

Why does that sort of thing happen? I, as a foreigner, could just guess – poverty? It’s no secret that it’s way too easy to get a gun in the Philippines. And, probably, the less fortunate Filipinos feel that they have no other options to survive and feed their families? Or maybe it is the effect of the drug war? Or is it something else entirely? In any case, it is obvious – life is sometimes very cheap here.

In closing, I feel I should remind you that the vast majority of Filipinos are Christians. The Spanish conquerors brought the religion over in the XVI century. I do admire the dedication of those devoted church-goers, but it’s impossible to just ignore everything else I’ve seen.

P. S. I would like to assure the readers and potential tourists that it can be really safe here in the Philippines. As long as you avoid dangerous areas and take care of your belongings.

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