Go back to novenas, rosary — theologian tells faithful at PCNE

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Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ talked about Filipino popular piety as driving force for the New Evangelization.

MANILA, Oct. 21, 2013—The Filipino faith stands on a bedrock of popular religiosity and this is why Filipinos should not do away with the devotions to the Poong Nazareno, praying the rosary, and gestures of faith like touching religious icons, a known theologian said. 

“Popular devotion is the purest form of inculturation because it comes from the ground up. [But] those in the higher classes are afraid to practice popular devotion,” Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, said during his talk titled, ‘Popular Devotions and the New Evangelization’, at the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE) last October 17.   

Spirituality of the poor 

According to Fr. Arevalo, popular devotion, which in the Philippines is given a face by the throngs who flock to Our Lady of Manaoag; the thousands who attend the feast of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia in Naga City and by those who have a special love for the Sto. Niño, is largely the spirituality of the poor. 

He explained how many of the wealthy and educated in the Philippines shun this particular religious experience in favor of largely Western practices because they seem to be of “higher” spiritual value. 

“We have so much colonial mentality.When it comes from us, it’s low-class, it’s smelly. We don’t look with respect on what is ours. Everything foreign is better than ours,” Fr. Arevalo told some 6,000 PCNE participants at the University of Sto. Tomas Quadricentennial Pavilion Annex. 

The challenges of the New Evangelization, he explained, will require a going back to a distinctly Filipino faith — one that is found in simple acts like kissing sacred images, going on pilgrimages, praying novenas, relying on God for day-to-day needs and the like. 

Largely imported, irrelevant 

The Blessed Virgin Mary was also honored during the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization as the 'Star of Evangelization.'

He decried the popularity of “largely imported, largely irrelevant, pseudo-intellectualist” spirituality among Filipinos, particularly among the religious and the clergy. 

This kind of spirituality is not something Filipinos naturally grasp nor relate to, Fr. Arevalo explained. 

During the ‘Year of the Two Hearts’ in 2000, Fr. Arevalo recounted how he heard someone remark, “The devotion to the Sacred Heart is not dying in the ordinary Filipino people. It is only dying among the religious and the priests.” 

This can be addressed, he explained, if the religious and the clergy immerse themselves in the life of the poor. 

“If the pastors are close to the people, they will have an experience of this popular faith… Sustained prayer and reflection are needed to go into this experience,” Fr. Arevalo added.

He mentioned Msgr. Clem Ignacio, the rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, also known as Quiapo Church, and how he went from mild indifference to deep devotion for this well-known Filipino icon after experiencing first-hand the faith of his flock.   

The encyclical ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’, (Evangelization in the Modern World)’, regards Popular piety “as rich in values [and] manifests a thirst for God which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice even to the point of heroism…It involves an acute awareness of profound attributes of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence.” [Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz]

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