Have written about the church on a variety of topics, including the politicization of scripture and the deification of elected officials; the hypocrisy of local culture expressing their supposed deep-seeded faith, juxtaposed with a penchant for petty thievery; among other ways the church in the Philippines differs from other religious communities around the world, despite reading from the same book.
One topic in particular has been about parishioner behavior in church, especially during mass. The inability (or refusal) to whisper by individuals who talk amongst themselves while the mass is going on; the way parents allow their children free rein within the church, without a second glance if their child is making a raucous or bothering fellow Catholic faithful; and a host of other behaviors that have not only impacted the way mass is appreciated in the city, but personally affected the celebration of mass.
Refusal to use water from the baptismal font
Attending weekly mass at a Roman Catholic church in Barangay Bata, there have been a few occasions where it was very clear, the water in the baptismal font, while it may be holy water, was not as pure as one would assume. While a believer in the possibility of healing through the power of faith, witnessing how some parishioners utilize the public font only makes one think twice before dipping in fingers.
On more than one occasion, as somebody who prefers to stand in the back of the church, have seen people use the water in the baptismal font to wash their hands, one individual used it all the way his forearm. While, there are those who believe in the healing power of the water itself, it should not be utilized in that manner if it is a public facility. According to the New Advent, one of the oldest and most comprehensive websites regarding the Catholic faith, they say faithful are to be “sprinkled” with the water upon entering. At times, priests will go around the church to bless parishioners with the water.
The article also notes, in ancient times, individuals would sometimes bring their own containers to take the water home to bless personal belongings. It would be better if these individuals who use the baptismal font as a personal sink to ask the priest for water, in order for them to bring home some holy water and use it for their own personal necessity – without sharing their germs (or possible communicable diseases) with the rest of their fellow worshippers.
Beyond that, there have also been instances where children spit into the baptismal font (without a word from their mindful parent).
After the first time it happened, did not dip the fingers and make the sign of the cross on the way out that day. Gave it the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was an isolated incident – until it happened again. Not quite sure if it was the same child, but there were a couple, seemingly playing a game with their spit and watching it comingle in the holy water; and, again, without a word from the child’s mother who was keeping an eye on her child.
Since that day, have not dipped fingers into the baptismal font upon arriving or leaving the church, not sure if it makes that much a difference in celebrating the mass, but am not willing to make any type of contact with a liquid used as one’s personal bathwater or a child’s spittoon.
Witnessing worshipers using the church as a urinal
Harkening back to the commonality of locals proclaiming their love for Jesus and their unrelenting faith, it is quite a surprise to see how many are also willing to drop trou and proceed to urinate on church grounds. There is a restroom/comfort room located towards the rear of the church, yet many individuals, children and adults, just do it right on the church gate or the garden located in the front of the church.
If there is such a reverence for the church, why is it alright to pee on it?
Not to mention, it is done so openly – the prime reason why it is so easy to spot the occasions it happens.
Have discussed the issue of public urination and how the acceptance of the act speaks poorly of the local community and their standards of decency and cleanliness, would imagine, for a people who praise God for every little thing that happens in their day, how does the disposal of human waste on the grounds of a church seem like a non-issue?
Last year, reports out of the German city of Ulm reported the Ulm Minster, the world’s tallest church tower, was being eroded due to the number of individuals urinating on the structure.
According to the BBC, “[The] stone base is being eroded by the salts and acids in the urine.”
However, unlike the church in Bacolod City, the perpetrators were usually revelers during local events who used it when they had to go and not congregations who would otherwise consider the structure sacred.
In 2010, a college student was arrested and charged with “desecration of a venerated object,” among other things, after he was caught urinating on the steps of a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania church. Interesting how secular culture places respect on establishments of faith, yet, in the Philippines, where even elected officials are likened to saints, peeing on church property is met with a shrug.
Traffic in the streets, traffic in the pews
It has been a while since receiving communion at the church, primarily because it is almost impossible to do so without getting into a impasse and colliding with others – both going in and coming out.
In cases outside the Philippines, parishioners are called up by pew, with one or two lines down the middle of the aisle and ample space on either side to allow those coming back to return to their seats. Once attended mass while on vacation in Shanghai, China and, like the Philippines, it was a rush to receive communion, yet, everybody still formed a line and left room for others to return to their pews easily.
At the church in Barangay Bata, dealt with the chaos for a few months until it was unbearable; it did not seem right to go to church and be forced to elbow people, be shoved, get grabbed after somebody was about to fall because they were being pushed – it was not the right mindset for a setting like Sunday mass.
Today, it is astonishing to witness it all from a different perspective. The bright side, everybody does receive communion, but watching that pandemonium ensure with people coming in from all directions, shoving each other to get in line, pushing back as they try to find their seat – it is much more of a relief to still leave church with a calm mind and spirit.
Church or landfill?
The most recent incident occurred this past weekend, after witnessing the many children screaming and running around during mass (and, again, without a second glance from their mindful parent), one of them was being fed a piece of candy about every five to ten minutes. It was easy to note because every time she got one, she would walk towards the door and throw her wrapper on the floor and walk away. By the time the homily rolled around, there were about five wrappers scattered across the foyer.
Her mother paid no mind, but then again, it is a littering culture in Bacolod City. Many people are used to throwing their garbage out their windows instead of a trash can. As much as the mayor and his administration want to push the façade of “Bacolod Back on Track” on their garbage trucks, for every truckload of garbage hauled, there is just as much being flung out of people’s homes and automobiles.
By the time the wrappers got to around seven, bent down and approached the girl about her wrappers, she shot back and look of disdain; either she did not like being called out for tossing her garbage anywhere or the idea of throwing garbage in a waste receptacle was a completely foreign idea to her (perhaps, a combination of the two). But, really, she is not all to blame because that is how she was raised. If her parents have no regard for keeping their immediate area clean, those “values” will be carried on to the following generation.
As discussed in previous columns, the faith in the word of God and the church is still there, but it is the local organization that either perverts scripture into political doctrine or exposes gross hypocrisy through their actions that impacts how the faith is celebrated and appreciated. Additionally, with the substandard sound system in most churches, even the word itself is difficult to hear, making church less about reverence and more about witnessing a circus./WDJ