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Pre-Baptism Seminars Reorient Parishioners In The Basics Of Faith


September 08 2006

Parents and godparents in a parish just south of Manila are required to attend a "seminar" before the infant can be baptized.

Priests and catechists at San Isidro Labrador parish in Las Pinas City, Paranaque diocese, say this is necessary so that Filipinos, who are traditional Catholics, appreciate the significance of the Sacrament of Baptism beyond folk beliefs. Diocesan policy now calls for all parishes to conduct Baptism preparation for parents and godparents.

In San Isidro parish, catechist Marilyn Villarosa conducts a seminar for parents and godparents every Saturday. Typically one-to-seven infants are baptized each Sunday at the parish, which serves about 35,000 people.

According to Villarosa, parents commonly think Catholicism is an inherited faith passed on to their children through Baptism. She believes mandatory catechesis before Baptism offers an opportunity to re-educate adult Catholics on the fundamentals of their faith and is a way of reaching out to those who have felt alienated from or indifferent to the Church.

A parent who attended a pre-Baptism seminar Sept. 3 told co-participants, "It is only now that I realize how detached I was from God." Villarosa cited this declaration as a "sign" that participants understood her lecture on the symbols of Baptism, the sacramental rite and its connection to everyday life. Follow-up catechesis includes inviting participants to join Mass and parish activities to sustain their "newfound appreciation."

Maria Fe Sosa, another parent, told UCA News that through the pre-Baptism seminar she attended she also grasped her "responsibility" to prepare her children to receive the other Sacraments. Prior to the seminar, she admitted, she thought Baptism was just a "ritual" to induct a person into a religion.

Godparents Cindy and Lloyd Aranas first thought their duty would be limited to giving toys or money to their goddaughter on special occasions. The seminar reminded them that they were committing to serve as "role models" for her.

Father Eric Salazar, the San Isidro Labrador parish priest, cited guidelines set by the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of the Philippines for choosing godparents. He told UCA News a godparent must be Catholic at least 18 years old who has received the Sacraments of Communion and Confirmation, and he or she must live a life of faith.

The priest warned that the tradition of having "multiple sponsors," or more than two pairs of godparents, might cloud the true purpose for having godparents: choosing the right people to lead the child closer to God. He lamented that some parents associate the number of godparents with the number of gifts a child would receive each Christmas.

The pre-Baptism seminars also try to dispel superstition related to Baptism. An example is the folk belief that rushing the newly-baptized child out of the church right after the rite would bring the child good luck. Some think Baptism could cure a sick child or prevent illness.

Father Salazar tells parents that Baptism "is not magic" and does not cure or give immunity from disease. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that healing may take place as a grace of Baptism, since it first unites a person with Christ.

He added that a pre-Baptism orientation or seminar is essential to fulfill the stipulation in canon law that "there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion" by the parents and godparents.

Paranaque diocese´s insistence on pre-Baptism preparation continues a practice implemented in Manila archdiocese, from which Paranaque was created in 2002 to serve the cities of Las Pinas, Paranaque and Muntinlupa.

The practice is in keeping with the recommendations of the 1991 Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. The plenary document, promulgated in 1992 with the Vatican´s approval, directed that parents and sponsors attend pre-Baptism and pre-Confirmation catechesis. However, the subsequent Catechism for Filipino Catholics acknowledged that such a directive poses difficulties in nationwide implementation due to the "sheer number of children to be baptized" in some parishes and the lack of trained catechetical personnel.

There is no standard seminar program for each Paranaque parish. Some Church workers use handouts or booklets that participants can keep. Others use visual aids or act out the baptismal ceremony during the seminar session.

After the San Isidro seminars, each participant is given a certificate of attendance, but no Baptism has been deferred for failure to attend. If parents or godparents cannot make time for the seminar, a catechist or priest may counsel the family and explain the reason for the requirement.

Of the recorded 25-30 Baptisms at San Isidro each month, most are infant Baptisms. There were only 11 adult baptisms recorded from January to mid-June.

As a diocesan rule reiterated in a Feb. 28 circular, a Paranaque priest can baptize only people residing in his parish, with no exceptions. Father Melchor Montalbo, parish priest of Jesus the Divine Healer in Paranaque City, said this policy simplifies documentation and "establishes a spiritual bond" between parishioner and pastor.


(Accompanying photos available at here)