500TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FAITH IN THE PHILIPPINES (7) – Vatican II and the Philippine Church

– Fr Leonard E. Dollentas

In 1953 Archbishop Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, became a cardinal and was made the Patriarch of Venice. He was elected pope on October 28, 1958, at the age of 76 and chose the name, John XXIII. He surprised those who expected him to be a caretaker pope when he convoked the historic Second Vatican Council in 1962, though he did not live to see the Vatican Council to its completion: he died in 1963. 

John XXIII made a major impact on the Catholic Church. He was instrumental in opening up the church to significant unexpected changes promulgated at the Vatican Council II. It was he who named the first Filipino Cardinal Rufino J Santos in 1960 and also the first cardinals from Africa and Japan. John XXIII is affectionately remembered as “il Papa Buono” or the “Good Pope” and for his sense of humor. When Vatican II was being planned, a Vatican official told him it would be “absolutely impossible” to open the Second Vatican Council by 1963.  “Fine, we’ll open it in 1962,” he answered, and he did. He was canonized alongside Pope John Paul II on 27 April 2014.

The Vision of the Church in Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council, which was held in 1962-1965 was also known as the Aggiornamento Council. Aggiornamento means updating – an internal spiritual renewal and external adaptation of the Church’s laws and institutions to the times. This was declared in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Art. 4): “Today, the human race is passing through a new age of its history. Profound and rapid changes are spreading by degrees around the whole world. Triggered by the intelligence and creative energies of man, these changes recoil upon him, upon his decisions and desires both individual and collective, and upon his manner of thinking and acting with respect to things and people. Hence we can already speak of a true social and cultural transformation, one which has repercussions on man’s religious life as well.”

Vatican II initiated a new understanding that the Church is a community of the people of God. The members of these people of God live in communion and participate in Christ’s mission as priestly, prophetic and kingly people. As such, it has a responsibility in relation to culture, politics, economics and other fields of secular life. It thus enabled the community or the laity to actively participate in the life and mission of the Church.

Paradigm Shift in the Philippine Church

In the late 1960s, immediately after Vatican II, foreign missionaries were in the frontier mission areas in the Philippines. They were the principal instruments for the Philippine church to receive the teachings of Vatican II.

A description of the impact of Vatican II to the church in the Philippines was given emphasis in the study conducted by Terence J Fay, a Jesuit from the University of St Michael’s College in Canada. He conducted a research interview on twenty-nine Filipinos to gather assessments on how Filipinos received the teachings of Vatican II. Fay wrote: “They reported that Vatican II decolonized the Latin Spanish church imposed upon the Philippines in the seventeenth century, that is to say, transformed it into a church deeply rooted in the Filipino soil, language and culture.”

Consequently, Vatican II introduced a transformation of the Philippine Church from a Spanish church into a Filipino Church. This entailed remodeling of paradigms, that is, to move from minimalistic and mundane spiritual practices to a vibrant faith that transforms. A faith rooted in the doctrines of the church reaching out to the healing of the broken body of Christ present in the poor. The new paradigm of the teachings of Vatican II steered the Filipinos to an awareness that the Church is not just an institution, it is also a communion of people, whose members are in communion with the Triune God and with one another. It is not just a worshipping community, it is also a prophetic and servant community. Its mission is not only spiritual but also temporal- caring for each other in a spirit of love, service, and equality.

Fr Fay illustrated this beautifully when he wrote: “Under the Spanish crown, the clergy and the upper classes were privileged Catholics, while ‘indios’ were less than equal. Vatican II in its letter Lumen Gentium proclaimed equality for all as the people of God, and ended the remnants of religious colonialism.”  

The Liturgical Change

The change from the Latin liturgy to the vernacular brought a significant and meaningful understanding of the faith of the Filipinos. It revealed a profound interaction between Jesus, represented by the priest celebrating the Mass, and the people participating in it. This new experience in the liturgy immersed them into the mystery of understanding both the word of God and the sacrament. This must have been the catalyst that motivated the laity to be a more participative part of the church. 

Fr James Kroeger, a Maryknoll missionary who also teaches theology at the Loyola School of Theology in Manila wrote: “There has been a successful integration of clergy and laity in a wide variety of apostolates. This has been particularly true in Mindanao, which in the postwar period, became the new frontier for many immigrants, especially from the central Visayas islands.”

This integration was evident in the emergence of a new model of priesthood, sharing their leadership with the faithful through prayer groups and organizations. The priests, who before Vatican II were mostly confined in the convento, became immersed in the life of the people.  Likewise, catechism, an exclusive work for priests, begun to be carried out by trained catechists.  In Mindanao and Negros, the first Basic Ecclesial Communities or BECs were formed. The BECs are a powerful approach for the word of God to reach the poor families in far villages. This trend would later be adopted by some other dioceses in Mindanao and far along in Luzon and in the Visayas as their pastoral trust. The BEC provided formation in bible study groups, leadership, stewardship of creation and caring for the poor.

A Relevant Church Caring for the Poor

Following the vision of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes for the church to be involved with the world, Philippine dioceses established their respective Social Action Centers. These centers became the Church’s arm for the assistance to various needs of the people particularly the poor. They promote social justice, prepare people to start mini-credit unions and cooperatives and promote a good Christian family formation by providing teachings trough Family Life Ministry. A number of organizations initiated projects to support the work of the church.

The Gawad Kalinga (to bestow care) started off a program of building homes for poor families in the country. They now operate the leading church-inspired poverty alleviation and nation-building movement in the Philippines. Their present goal is to end the poverty of 5 million poor Filipino families by 2024, with the homes they build for the poor, training for the families and opportunities for the education of the children.

Caritas centers are accessible in almost all dioceses to address the various needs of the poor. When Cardinal Rosales was Archbishop of Manila, he founded the Pondo ng Pinoy (Fund for the Filiipino) asking people to contribute 25 centavos to feed others. Today it has become a foundation and successfully embarking on its mission to reach out to the least, the lost and the last of the Philippine society.

(Pictures are courtesy of Fr Mark Sese from Our Lady of the Poor Parish, Taguig  Philippines.)


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