UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News


Filipinos' extravagant piety mirrors social conditions

Religious traditions are displays of devotion as poor people look for their prayers to be answered

Mark Saludes, Manila

Mark Saludes, Manila

Updated: August 16, 2018 04:41 AM GMT
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Filipinos' extravagant piety mirrors social conditions

Penitents wear costumes and masks replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers during a Holy Week observance in the Philippine province of Marinduque. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)

Share this article :
Sociologists say popular piety is the religion of the masses. It is the way they live. It recognizes ritual practices, which people believe will help them obtain intercession from divine beings.

In the Philippines, Catholics become like grains of corn inside a microwave oven every January. They pop and go wild as they join a religious procession of the image of the Black Nazarene.

It's astonishing how millions of barefooted devotees go near the carriage, climb over the rowdy crowd, touch or kiss the statue, and get out safely. It's like a scene in a zombie movie where the "undead" climb a wall by stepping on each other.

Pain comes afterwards. The faithful lie down on the road. Some pass out due to exhaustion. But they continue to join the procession that usually lasts 20 hours.

The bruises and danger and the loudness and madness have become part of an extravagant display of piety for many Filipino Catholics.

Holy Week observance in the Philippines is another display of popular religiosity. Filipino Catholics even flagellate themselves. In my hometown, the streets are usually filled with flagellants as early as 3 a.m. People cover themselves with rags to hide their identities.

In other places, people even have themselves crucified. The penitents claim that by doing so they glorify the Lord. They hate sorrow and misery because they are used to it. Every day, Filipinos are beaten with whips of poverty and destitution.

Many devotees believe that through their sacrifice their sins will be forgiven and their prayers will be answered.

Most of the prayer petitions include employment, good health, decent housing, education and peace. A way out of poverty is the most common prayer of people who flock to the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help every Wednesday.

Many devotees belong to the poorest sector of society — sweaty, stinky and rugged workers, farmers and low-income professionals.

They exhibit an overexcited and hysterical expression of popular religiosity, maybe as a sign of protest against the system they are in.

Experts say that Filipino Catholics become deeply devoted to the image of the suffering Christ because they can relate to Him. They kneel before the the Blessed Virgin Mary to seek intercession to end their economic ordeal because no one else would listen to them, not even their government.

Filipino Catholics are naturally hopeful. Resilience is one of the virtues the Filipino people exhibit in the face of life-changing disasters.

Filipinos have learned and managed to help themselves because of government inaction. With or without government support, people stand up and pick up the pieces of their lives.

The lives of the Filipino people revolve around suffering and struggle, plus the search for redemption. That is why they continue to seek miracles that would take away their agony.

Religiosity is deeply embedded in the Filipino culture, and it is fueled by the prevailing social inequality in the country.

For many poor Filipinos, faith is what keeps them standing — and the church is their only hope.


Mark Saludes is a freelance journalist who covers social justice issues in the Philippines.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
UCA Newsletter
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Also Read

UCA News Podcast
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution