If we want the Church to survive and thrive we need to constantly look at the big picture and the long view. This requires looking at the external opportunities and threats as well as our internal weaknesses and strengths. The question that we need to answer is: What are the challenges the Church is facing today and in the coming decades and how can the Church respond to these challenges?
The first challenge is that of globalization. All the nations and economies of the world are now interconnected. Globalization has been brought about by advances in technology – through means of communication and travel. The world has indeed become a global village. Globalization has brought economic progress to many underdeveloped countries. The Asian region (especially South-East Asia) has been the fastest growing economy with high GDP (gross domestic products). But this growth has not been inclusive, benefiting only the local economic and political elites and the transnational corporations. Poverty remains a problem. The poor has been left behind – including the indigenous peoples. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened.
The economic system has resulted in ecological and environmental degradation due to mining, logging, coal-fired power plants and dependence on fossil fuels. The Philippines have become one of most vulnerable countries to the calamities and disasters brought about by climate change and global warming. Super-typhoons like Yolanda and floods are becoming the new normal. The poisoning of the land, air and seas are affecting the livelihood and health of the people.
Globalization has made possible the flow of migration – from the underdeveloped countries to the more developed economies, and from the rural areas to the urban areas. In short term, this has been beneficial economically to families with OFW and has kept the economy afloat. The Philippines has one of the most number of migrant workers. Filipinos can be found in almost all parts of the world – the Middle East, North America, Europe and in Asia-Oceania (Japan, Korea, Australia). With the lack of national industrialization and agricultural development and better job opportunities abroad will perpetuate and increase foreign and domestic migration.
What is the effect of globalization and a neo-liberal capitalist system on culture? Through technology, the liberal values of the dominant Western (European and North American) culture are influencing the local culture. Among these values are – consumerism, materialism, secularism, autonomy, independence, sexual permissiveness, privacy, individual rights, personalism, equality, liberty, etc. Those who are easily influenced by these values are the young people and those living in urban areas. These values can easily be assimilated due to technology (the internet, social media, movies, TV, etc). Thus, there is an emerging youth culture that transcends national and regional borders. Young people from all over the world can share the same values, the same taste for clothes, music, food, and the kind of relationships that they want to have. This development can lead to a generation gap and tension. Young people and even older ones influenced by this liberal culture can be in conflict with authority figures – within the family, village, religious community and society. If not handled well, this could lead to either alienation or rejection of family values, religion and even rebellion against those in authority. The younger generation may not be as religious as their elders. If they find religion meaningless or irrelevant, they will be searching for other meaningful forms in other religions or will adopt the secularism of the West.
These cultural and economic developments are also affecting the family. The families are getting smaller as more and more younger people – including women – are focused on their career and marrying late or never marry at all. A contraceptive mentality contributes to this. The OFW phenomenon is also weakening the family. Oftentimes, one or both parents are abroad, leaving behind their children. Lack of parental care can lead to problematic young people. This can lead to being influenced by gangs or by drugs. The weakening of the family and the more secular values of young people can also affect vocations to religious life.
Looking at the political terrain, authoritarian rule is back. Although democracy had been restored after the Marcos dictatorial rule, President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be following the footsteps of his idol– Ferdinand Marcos. He controls not just the executive branch but also the legislative and judicial branches thereby weakening the system of check and balance. Due to the absence of genuine political parties and the prevalence of political dynasties, it has been easy for politicians to switch party and join the supermajority for their own vested interest. Both judiciary and congress have become rubber stamps to Duterte’s political agenda. Duterte has been able to carry out his bloody “War on Drugs” with impunity which has resulted in over 20,000 extrajudicial killings of suspected users and pushers – most of them poor. He was able to declare Martial Law in Mindanao and to extend it with the support of Congress & Supreme Court. He threatened to declare Martial Law in the entire country and establish a revolutionary government. There won’t be need for it with the way he has established political hegemony, weakened the rule of law and violated human rights. Meanwhile, the change he has promised remains elusive: the drug problem and criminality remain unsolved, there is still much corruption in government, poverty has not been alleviated, taxes have increased, the price of basic commodities has increased, there is no peace and poor continue to suffer. Meanwhile, Duterte continues his tirade against the Church which he regards as a threat to his rule.
What is the long-term consequence of this political situation? This could lead to an economic crisis. There are less foreign investments coming in due to the political uncertainty and Duterte’s pro-China policy. His “build, build, build” policy can lead to debt-servitude to China and increase the national debt. The European Union (EU) has threatened to withdraw the GSP – the duty-free privilege for Philippine goods that enter the EU – due to the lack of respect for human rights and rule of law. The political situation has become unstable and the economic crisis could worsen the political crisis and vice-versa. The International Criminal Court has started a preliminary examination on the complaint against Duterte on “crimes against humanity.” There is a growing resistance to the regime as more and more people become disenchanted and angered by what is happening. Even beyond the Duterte regime, the Philippines will continue to deal with weakened political institutions, with political dynasties, with voters who are easily bought and continue to elect incompetent popular and wealthy candidates. Poverty will still be a major problem. The environmental crisis will worsen. The economy will continue to benefit only a few. More and more people will resort to violence if the problems of society persist and no peace agreement is reached as the next generation could become more radicalized.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Church vis-à-vis this situation? Since the time of Martial Law under Marcos and over the succeeding years, the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the CBCP, has exercised a prophetic role. The Church has been instrumental in the ouster of the brutal dictator Marcos and the corrupt president Estrada. Will the Church continue to exercise her prophetic role under this regime?
To their credit, the AMRSP (Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines) and individual religious order came out with statements condemning the extrajudicial killings. The LAIKO – the national network of lay associations and movements – also issued statements against the culture of death. The CBCP has already issued three pastoral letters – affirming the right to life (even of addicts) and condemning EJK. But do these statements represent the position of many Catholics?
Meanwhile, the majority of the clergy remain silent vis-à-vis the abuses of this regime – especially the extra-judicial killings, the Martial Law in Mindanao and the authoritarian rule. On the other hand, many dioceses and parishes have initiated community-based drug rehabilitation programs to address the problem of drug addiction and to prevent extra-judicial killings. Some priests and religious have also started documenting the violation of human rights and set up a network of sanctuary for the witnesses who will be presented in the International Criminal Court. A few priests are preaching against the abuses of the regime and together with some religious they are participating in protests/ prayer rallies. In reaction to all these, Duterte has criticized and cursed the Church – branding her as a hypocritical institution and calling the God we Catholics believe as stupid. He falsely accused some of the bishops and priests. Three priests have been murdered so far. Other priests have been placed on a hit list.
The questions that will continue to haunt the Church in the years to come are: What possessed this so-called Christian nation to elect this man in spite the fact that our churches are full every Sunday, hundreds of thousands or even millions attend our processions (especially Sto. Nino and Nazareno) and the record numbers attending the papal Mass (seven million). What happened to our formation/evangelization programs? How come the Church seems to be unsuccessful in forming the conscience of our people – including the clergy? Ultimately, the question that needs to be answered: how far has the vision of a renewed Church as promoted by Vatican II and PCP II been owned and internalized?
Thus, the challenge for the Church in the Philippines is how to live the vision of the Church not just as communion and as a priestly people, but especially as a prophetic and servant Church, ready to accept suffering and martyrdom. The other challenges related to this: how can the Church truly become the Church of the Poor in face of the continuing problem of poverty. What more can the Church do in alleviating poverty? What can the Church do to help tackle the problem of environmental destruction, climate change and the resulting calamities and disasters? How can the Church promote peace amidst the spiral of violence and continuing armed conflict? How can the Church defend human rights – especially the right to life. How can the Church effectively help in stopping the killings and start the healing? How can the Church sustain and expand the efforts at ecumenical and interreligious dialogue – a dialogue of faith and life especially with Muslims - that can contribute to peace and development?
In fulfilling her mission, the Church faces the challenge of how to get more and more lay people to get actively involved not just in the liturgical celebration but also in the prophetic and servant mission. This is very urgent as number of ordained ministers remain very low – around 10,000 priests for over 90 million Catholics. With smaller families and more young people who are either secularized or pressured to follow another lucrative career due to family obligation, we cannot expect a dramatic increase of vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Thus, the Church will depend heavily on the active participation of the laity – not just as individuals but as part of BECs and lay organizations and associations and renewal movements. Their involvement in the parish and the diocese as well as in society in general is vital. The dynamism of the Church should not be dependent on the clergy but on the lay faithful who are committed and competent.
Speaking of lay participation there is a need to address the problem of the active involvement of men. While the Church at the diocesan and parish levels are led by male ordained ministers, majority of those who are involved in church activities are women – except the extra-ordinary lay ministers of communion who are men. The same thing is happening at the grassroots communities – in the BECs. While the priest-less liturgies in the chapel are presided by men, the rest of the leaders of the community and the majority of the active members are women. On the bright side, this is a welcome development for women who are demanding for a greater role in the Church. This is already happening at the grassroots. But we should not forget the men. There is a need to come up with evangelization and formation programs designed for men and to focus on promoting masculine spirituality suited for them. This is to be done without neglecting the women and their needs. Perhaps, programs that are more social action-oriented (prophetic-servant mission) might be attractive to men, rather than just focusing exclusively on liturgy and bible-sharing. Men needs more action and less talk. They need to become more aware that whatever they are doing will contribute to the welfare of the community and society. Male-bonding often takes place in the midst of praxis rather than just sharing their feelings. If ever they are going to share their problems, it will often be with other men they regard as friends. Thus, besides encouraging them to take active part in their community, it is important that they come together regularly as men to deepen their fellowship – prayer, sharing, planning, celebrating. Those who are married should be made aware of their responsibility as fathers, husband as well as co-leader of the Christian family – the domestic Church.
The family remains a cause for concern. How to develop truly Christian families is a challenge for the Church when the family as an institution has been weakened due to migration, reduced size, and the influence of a globalized culture and technology. Family evangelization programs need to be developed as well as marriage-enrichment programs for couples. Pre-marriage/pre-Cana seminars needs to be updated.
In promoting communion and carrying out her mission – especially the prophetic evangelizing mission, the Church must make use of technology – whether in mass media and social media. The cyberspace or the internet is helpful in developing communion – connecting the members of the Church with one another and with their pastors no matter how distant they are physically. The Church needs to avail of technology to not just in imparting the teachings and doctrines of the Church but in the formation of conscience.
The participation of young people in liturgical celebrations and youth activities at the parish and diocesan levels remain high. But we cannot be complacent as the globalized secular and materialistic culture continue to influence young people. Formation/Evangelization programs for young people that will include formation of conscience and involvement in the prophetic and servant mission of the Church should be emphasized. The Church should not forget to address young people’s need for meaning and direction as well as appropriate spirituality. Hopefully, from among them will come the future priests and religious, as well as lay leaders.
Finally, the Church must address the issue of leadership in the Church which is a reflection of the crisis of leadership in society. The quality of leadership is very important if the Church is to survive and thrive and if society is to be transformed. So far, the models of leadership have been inadequate and so is the leadership-formation for clergy, seminarians, religious and lay people. Many of the clergy who are ordained are not prepared to exercise leadership roles in the parish and diocese although they may have adequate theological, spiritual and liturgical formation. Many continue to associate leadership primarily with power, privilege and status – influenced by the prevailing dominant cultural models. Thus, they turn out to be incompetent figureheads, or petty tyrants, or bureaucrats, or administrators operating in a maintenance mode. Worst of all, some become involved in sexual misconduct and corruption, lacking in conscience, failing to exercise with integrity ethical leadership. This is the kind of leadership that will weaken the Church and block Church’s renewal. Thus, the model of leadership promoted by Vatican II and PCP II must be imbibed – leadership motivated by humble and loving service (servant-leadership), being a compassionate good shepherd with the smell of the sheep. This leadership style is more participative, consultative, collegial or collaborative and inspired by vision (the vision of a Church renewed) – hence, visionary leadership. This type of leadership demands scrutinizing the signs of the times – viewing reality from a broader perspective – looking at the big picture and the long view. This type of leadership is more concerned with building up the Church as a living community rather than in building expensive churches or cathedrals. To avoid maintenance mode, this requires planning and strict implementation yet characterized by flexibility. This kind of leadership requires courage -- the courage to speak out, to confront the wolves that threaten or wound the flock and to accept suffering and martyrdom if required. Without this kind of leadership, the vision of a renewed Church of Vatican II and PCP II will remain an empty dream -- forgotten beautiful documents relegated to the archives.
We should not expect that we can fully achieve the vision of a renewed Church in our own lifetime. It is a continuing effort, an ongoing journey. The Church, after all, is constantly reforming and renewing herself – ecclesia semper reformanda. Like the Kingdom of God, it is an “already-not-yet” reality. Hence, we must always be patient and do what we can. After all this is the work of the Spirit and we should rely on the guidance and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. Vatican II was seen as a new Pentecost. It was just a new start. Those who started have already gone before us and it is our duty and obligation to continue what they started just as we hope the next generation will continue to do so. There is no turning back.