Why I am still a Catholic
It was barely a month after I was born in 1944 when my parents took me to the Sacred Heart parish church in Kamuning, Quezon City, to be baptized as a Catholic.
No, I did not choose to be a Catholic. It would be explained to me later that during the rite, it was my godparents who expressed for me the acceptance of the Catholic faith. So, during Christmas, I would run to my godparents, our neighbors, and take their hand and put it on my forehead (“Mano po, Ninang”) to receive their blessing, a gift of goodies, and some money. It was always a joyful Christmas celebration for a young boy who had generous godparents.
My father, a supervising teacher in the Bureau of Education who was more than 10 years older than my mother, caught tuberculosis, so that the whole family had to move to a faraway fishing village in Cabangan, Zamblales, to breathe the fresh air from the sea. As there was no cure yet for TB after the war, he succumbed to the disease when I was three years old.
His untimely death left my mother alone to take care of her brood of four little children. A pious woman from La Union, my mother raised us up as good Catholics. She formed in us our early habit of praying together before and after meals, and making the sign of the cross and kneeling together before the statue of Sagrada Familia, placed on top of the low table in the only wide room of the cogon house, before we went to sleep. Before she blew off the light from the gas lamp, she would relate stories about God who told Moses to stretch out his staff upon the Red Sea, and in my mind I saw the waves rise and fall to provide a safe passage for the Israelites who were fleeing from the pursuing warriors of the pharaoh.
My curious mind easily believed these stories, as I saw how these stories made my mother more pious and holy. Every day I would see her sweep the yard, water the vegetable plants, feed the chickens, and scoop a bowl of bogoong (salted fish) preserved in a clay jar buried in the ground to be shared with the neighbors.
The Catholic practices observed by my mother shaped my Catholic faith. One time, she touched the smooth cheek of the Blessed Mother whose statue stood on a low table, and tears fell from my eyes (they must be tears of joy). When I joined the procession of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, I experienced the pulse of struggling humanity all jostling to grab a piece of the cross born on the shoulders of the One who offered his life for the sins of the world. Even now, the Sunday Mass makes me feel united with my fellow Catholic believers who share their love for one another as Jesus Christ loves them.
This coming year, I join the country’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the first Mass at Limasawa. But it also makes me feel somehow uneasy, because my former Catholic friends keep telling me that “Catholicism has lost its force in the world,” that the Catholic church is being rocked by all sorts of scandal, that its teachings and practices are now assailed by dissent and defiance. “Christianity is an obstacle to social progress,” others say.
The best argument for Christianity, I think, is offered by G. K. Chesterton: “What is wrong with Christianity is not that Christianity is wrong but that Christianity has never been tried and found wanting.” How can I forget the stories of my mother, when those stories, and her faith in them, were what made her work so hard to provide for her children, to be kind to her neighbors, to be patient, to be forgiving—to be a good Christian person?
Mariano F. Carpio, 76, is a retired teacher of the University of Santo Tomas.
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