When I think of the US, my first thought is that, for the most part, it’s a Christian country. There are churches everywhere. In even the smallest towns, there’s at least one church. However, the idea and enforcement of a separation between church and state has made the religious nature of the country a lot more toned down than it is in the Philippines.
Everywhere you look in the Philippines there are reminders that you’re in a Christian country, and definitely a Catholic Christian country. (For the purposes of this blog I’m not referring to the southern islands, which has been a stronghold of the Muslim faith for hundreds of years). There are crosses and churches, religious graffiti, art, statues, pamphlets, and even religious themed custom paint jobs on vehicles, among other things. This is especially true when you get outside of the Metro Manila area, like Antipolo, which is the town just north of Manila where I’m currently residing.
Since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and their 300 years of colonial rule, the Catholic religion has been very deeply embedded into the Filipino society. I’m sure there are varying degrees from family to family, just like there are in other countries, but people in the Philippines are overwhelmingly Catholic in the way that Arabic countries are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Sometimes, this overwhelming Catholicism can border on the bizarre, or creepy. At Muslim mosques, the call to prayer is announced from the minarets five times per day. I remember the first time I heard it in Kuwait. It was a bit unsettling, but beautiful in a way. I sometimes stopped to listen to it when I was in Kuala Lumpur. There’s something similar in the Philippines, or at least at the church in the neighborhood I’m staying in. Every day at roughly 3 PM, you can hear the sounds of children chanting the rosary over and over, using loudspeakers mounted to the church. It has a Children of the Corn vibe to it, especially since it echoes off the surrounding hills. From what I’m told, these children are lured in to perform this task with promises of food and treats afterwards.
I’ve even heard tales of religion supplanting medicine in the Philippines. Some people prefer to call a priest rather than a doctor when a person is ill. The priest comes to perform an exorcism to get rid of the bad demons that are causing the sickness. I don’t want to stray too far from the topic, but if God gave us wisdom to create medicine to heal ourselves, then isn’t it a bit rude to reject it and simply pray for miracles? Anyhow, I also found a bottle of Holy Water in the medicine cabinet, right next to the headache pills and band aids. Seriously.