Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 25, 2008
Philippine Church builds on lay leadership
Bishop tells Knights of new era for 500-year-old church
- CNS photo/Cheryl Ravelo, Reuters
Priests clench their fists during a Mass earlier this year in support of a former Philippine government official whose testimony in a corruption probe has triggered a political scandal. The Church in the Philippines has been outspoken about corruption in government.
By DENNIS SADOWSKI
Catholic News Service
With nearly 500 years of history, the Catholic Church throughout the island nation of the Philippines is maturing in the eyes of one of the country's newest bishops.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Philippines, credits that maturation to a burgeoning lay leadership.
He said unprecedented growth in base ecclesial communities - faith sharing and Bible study groups - and the rapid development of lay leaders are spearheading a new era for the Church, which has more than 70 million members.
"Basic ecclesial communities are the spirit of the early Church," said Ongtioco, 59. "It's people knowing each other, people bonding together so that they can help each other in times of need.
"(It's) supporting the growth of their faith. It's not just to be there when somebody needs you. In nurturing your faith you nurture their faith, so there is growth of holiness in the Church," he said.
A participant in the Knights of Columbus 126th annual convention in Quebec City, Ongtioco is especially pleased to see the development of lay leaders because his country has just 8,300 priests, or one priest per 8,478 Catholics.
"We have more and more ordinations, but not that many" overall, Ongtioco said. The priesthood "is not growing as high as it should be in proportion to the growth of the population."
The development of lay leaders is particularly important in the country's rural south, where priests in active ministry are far fewer than in urban dioceses.
"The laypeople, they have come of age," he said.
Low Mass attendance
Despite the growth in lay leadership, Ongtioco said attendance at Sunday Mass remains low, hovering between 15 and 20 per cent. He is hopeful that lay leaders can turn out more people for Mass.
The bishop also pointed to several other challenges the Church is confronting: migrant workers, human trafficking and government corruption.
The migration of workers to Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. affects family life because one or both parents may take an overseas job, leaving children behind with relatives.
Although taking a job elsewhere for significantly higher pay allows a parent to better provide for his or her family, the separation of children from parents is taking its toll, he said.
Government reports show an estimated 11 million Philippine citizens work around the world. They pump $17 billion annually into the island nation's economy.
The enticement of employment also is fueling the movement of young people from rural areas to cities. In many cases, Ongtioco said, the organized "white slavery" trade is entrapping young men and women.
"They are recruited as entertainers. Filipinos love to sing. Yet sometimes some of them will end up being victims of this organized crime. . . . People in the south and in remote areas, their dreams are just even to go to Manila; it's paradise and they end up being victims of this organized crime. They are kept as slaves," he explained.
Recognizing the problem, Ongtioco said the Church is working to build awareness of trafficking, but has not been able to sway those who profit from it.
The Church also is concerned about government corruption, such as the buying of votes and kickbacks from business to government official s.
Faith and life
In a country as Catholic as the Philippines is, he wondered about the disconnection between faith and life.
"The maturing of the Christian faith is good, but now I wish it would eventually be integral" to people's political life and business life, he said.
In the end, however, Ongtioco said he is hopeful that the empowerment of lay leaders in the Church can help overcome the challenges. He's counting on the lay leaders who are organizing the base ecclesial communities to be the motivating factor in people's lives.
"People have these challenges for us. At the same time, side by side, is the maturation of laypeople who will become a very good seed to continue to help us," he said.