Newsletter of the District
- Mar 2002
The Soul Of A Nation
testimony, written fifty years ago, by Rev. Fr. L.A. O'Leary C.SS.R.
the story of a tragedy - the tragedy of a nation's lost soul.
As a result of the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the Philippine
Islands to the United States. When the Spaniards departed, all
the Spanish missionaries returned to their homeland and into the
vacuum thus created poured hundreds of Protestant missionaries,
differing inevitably in belief and practice but firmly united
in one aim - to destroy the Catholic Faith in the Islands.
Six thousand miles northwest of New Zealand--a mere few hundred
miles off the northern coast of Australia--the soul of a great Catholic
nation is today in the balance. The Philippines is the only Christian
nation of the Orient. In the Providence of God it has happened that
the Philippines have received the priceless gift of Faith, while
so many sister nations still sit in the darkness all around. To
the north is the Empire of Japan with sixty million pagans, to the
west is the great continent of China with its four hundred million,
to the south is Indonesia with its thirty million Mohammedans. In
the center of this circle of paganism lies the Philippines. Of its
twenty million of population, seventeen millions are baptized Catholics.
From here we might expect the light of Faith to spread out over
the East; on the contrary, there is today a real danger that the
Philippines, as a nation, may yet be lost to the Church.
Catholic under Spain
as a seminarian in the Redemptorist of Studies, Sydney, I along
with other students, Australians and New Zealanders, listened spellbound
as returning missionaries spoke to us of the glory and the tragedy
that was the Philippines story, surely one of the most poignant
in the whole long history of the Church.
They told us
of great massive churches and cathedrals gradually falling into
decay, of deserted monasteries and convents; of seven hundred parishes
left almost overnight without a priest; of Catholic people left
abandoned in their thousands and tens of thousands, with no priest
to baptize their children, to celebrate Mass, to hear their confession,
to administer the last Sacraments to the dying.
had been under Spain for four hundred years. Spanish missionaries
converted the people from paganism and made practically all the
islands of the Archipelago solidly Catholic. Then came the Spanish-American
War in 1898. Admiral Dewey destroyed the Spanish Grand Fleet in
Manila Bay. The United States took over the Philippines. The Spaniards
had to depart; with them went a thousand Spanish missionaries. The
people were left without the clergy. Professor Zaide, in his History
of the Philippines, says that one of principal reasons why the
United States determined to annex the Islands instead of giving
them their independence was the pressure brought to bear on President
McKinley by the Protestants groups in America.
21, 1899, McKinley explained to a group of Protestant ministers
about to leave for the Philippines, why he decided to retain the
Islands: "Before you go I should like to say a word about
the Philippine business. The truth is I did not want the Philippines.
I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance.
And it came to me, there was nothing left for us to do but to take
them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize
and Christianize them."
the President of the United States was a little weak in history.
He was going to civilize a country that had been civilized and cultured
for centuries, he was going to Christianize a people that had been
Catholic for four hundred years, he was going to educate a people
who had their own University of San Ignacio in 1621, and the world
famous University of Santo Tomas in 1611; one hundred years before
the first University was founded in the United States. The ministers
saw their chance to deal a blow at the Catholic Church and they
were not slow to take it.
Methodists, and Presbyterians swarmed over the Island like locusts.
One boat alone brought four hundred non-Catholic ministers. Immediately
they set about attacking and undermining the Faith of a defenseless
people. They took over control of nearly all the schools of the
Islands. It was surely a spectacle to make the angels weep-the whole
Catholic childhood of a Catholic nation in the grip of heretical
ministers. And what amazing zeal these Protestants showed! In less
than two years, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, United Brethren,
Seventh Day Adventists, the American Bible Society, and the Y.MC.A.,
formed themselves into the Evangelical Union of Protestants, and
divided the Islands into special spheres of influence, each sphere
to be under the control of one sect without opposition from the
Not until eighteen
months after this Evangelical Union had been formed, did the first
Catholic priest arrive from the United States. The Church had lost
the youth of the Nation. Though many American Government officials
were outstanding men, many others were but bitterly anti-Catholic.
To hope for advancement a Filipino had to sacrifice his Faith. The
most brilliant students were sent to Protestant colleges or universities
in America, and then were sent back to continue the work of proselytizing
amongst their own countrymen.
could or would have sent some 800 priests to replace the Spanish
priests who had left all would have been well. Even if 50 had come
they could have checked the growing danger. Yet it is pathetic to
count the number of American priests in the Philippines during those
first twenty years. By 1912, eleven years after America had complete
control of the Islands, there were only eight American priests.
In 1919 there were four. In 1920 there were two!
imminent danger of the Philippines being lost to the Faith became
known. Religious Orders in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy and
England sent missionaries. From Ireland, Australia and New Zealand
came the Redemptorists. They learned the dialects of these people,
and then went up and down through the Islands preaching Missions,
answering objections of the proselytizers, rallying the people to
the old Faith once more.
This was the
story of the Philippines as we heard it from the men returning.
They told us how the people welcomed their coming, how they had
all but given up hope of seeing a priest again, how they came in
their thousands to go to confession, to hear Holy Mass, to receive
Our Lord into their hearts again after twenty long years of forced
separation from Him.
when we heard these thing, heard them from men who had worn themselves
out in this grim battle for the soul of a nation, strange longings
stirred in our hearts; the tragedy of the Philippines filled our
minds; we waited impatiently for the day of ordination, for the
day when we might get the word, "Go to the Philippines."
of us got it. Only after many years did I finally heard the order
"Go to the Philippines." And at last, on April 22, 1950,
I landed in Manila Bay.
can never relax
have gone by since then. Eighteen months crammed with work. The
pressure never relaxes and can never relax, for the battle for the
soul of the Philippines is still going on. This is true today as
it has been every single day since those 1,000 Spanish priests left
these island shores back in 1898. The issue is not yet decided.
In some ways the picture is more hopeful now than it was in the
past. In spite of fanatical zeal and the lavish outpouring of unlimited
money, Protestantism has failed to make any real impression on the
Filipino people. Since the country got its independence from the
United States on July 4, 1946, anti-Catholic influence has waned
and there has been a revival of Faith.
But in spite
of these encouraging signs, the overall picture is still dark. The
Philippines may yet be lost. I have heard one experienced missioner
declare that in fifty years, there will be just a small group of
practical Catholics, but that the nation in general will lose its
Catholic Faith, and will sink back into the dark abyss of paganism.
If this does happen it will not be the fault of the Filipino people.
But will be due to the tragedy that still haunts these Islands -
more priests are needed here today to bring the ration of priests
to people up to what that ratio is in Australia and New Zealand.
This need is so colossal that it is hard for the mind to grasp it.
Take the whole population of New Zealand, Catholic and Protestant,
Maori and Pakeha, bring in another 200,000 immigrants and add them
to that total and you have the number of Catholics within twenty
miles of me here at the present moment. Yet for these 2,000,000
Catholics there are less than 50 priests to say Mass on Sundays.
alone, Tondo and Sampoloc, have more Catholics than the total Catholic
population of New Zealand. Or, to complete the comparison in an
Australian setting, these two parishes, Tondo and Sampaloc, have
more Catholics than the total Catholic population of Queensland.
Yet these two parishes have in all only six priests.
In New Zealand
and Queensland there are nearly a thousand priests. Imagine, if
suddenly, tomorrow morning, say, these thousand priests of New Zealand
and Queensland were exiled leaving only six priests in each country.
Let this state of things go on for fifty years: fifty years without
Mass or the Sacraments beyond what these six priests could manage:
and fifty years moreover of being subjected, day after day, to an
insidious propaganda, directed specifically against you by hundreds
of ministers who with unlimited financial backing built and staffed
schools for your children, erected magnificent churches and hospitals,
and promised you worldly success and promotion, if only you would
forget your old Faith, and become renegades to it. Let that state
of affairs go on, I say, for half a century in New Zealand and Australia.
and whose faith would survive the ordeal?
And yet, that
is the story of the Philippines for the past fifty years!
Is it any wonder
that hundreds of thousands of Filipino Catholics, indeed millions
of them, have never received any Sacrament but Baptism, have never
been instructed in their Faith, and have never heard Holy Mass.
And the heart-breaking thing is that these people are so responsive.
Whenever a new priest arrives and another Sunday Mass is possible,
that Mass is crowded out.
There is no
escaping the fact that the instinct of this nation is deeply Catholic.
The very names of the streets read like a Litany of Saints; nearly
every drug store has a religious title, Farmacia de Virgen de
Perpetuo Socorro, Farmacia Redentorista, Farmacia de San Antonio;
most private automobiles carry on the windshield a sticker of the
Sacred Heart or of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor; nearly every taxi
has a large holy picture just above the driver's head: the public
buses have miniature shrines with lights burning before the tiny
statues; in the month of May it is almost impossible to drive through
the city streets because of the flores de Mayo processions
in honor of Our Blessed Lady, long lines of girls in flowing white
frocks, jeweled coronets on their heads, the beads in their hands
as they sing the Rosary in Spanish.
All this looks
very wonderful. And it is very wonderful Catholic country with all
taking the practice of the Faith as a part of their ordinary lives,
not a thing to be discreetly hidden away behind church doors. Even
still, as I pass through the city, and see tens of thousands swarming
in every street, I find a strange exaltation and pride in the thought,
"Every one of these persons is a Catholic, is a member of the
household of the Faith." But quick upon the heels of this
exaltation and pride there comes an indefinable feeling of sadness,
for behind all these external signs of Faith, the dark shadow of
tragedy ever looms.
Ask the bus
driver, who religiously keeps the lights burning before the little
shrine in his bus, "How many Gods are there?" and
he might tell you anything from three to a dozen. He just does not
know. He has been baptized a Catholic, he calls himself a Catholic,
beyond that he and millions of his fellow Filipino countrymen know
nothing of their Faith. Ask the wealthy business man, who has the
images of the Sacred Heart and those of the Blessed Virgin prominently
displayed on the windshield of his automobile, when he was last
at confession; the answer will probably be, "Fifteen or
twenty years ago."
What is at
the back of all this ignorance of the Faith among people who are
so proud of being Catholic? Again the answer is, No priests.
It is true that priests have come from all over the world to join
in the struggle for the saving of the Faith in the Philippines.
On the feast of St. Alphonsus this year, at the dinner we gave for
the Archbishop and clergy, there were priests from fifteen different
nations; storm-troopers thrown in a desperate effort to hold the
line. But then they come in such pitifully small numbers; now a
single priest, now a little group of two or three; not enough to
replace the men whom death takes out of the line each year.
this Catholic nation, the sects are still today pouring five men
to our one. They have no hope of making the Filipinos Protestants,
but they are succeeding only too well in turning some of them against
the Faith and making them completely indifferent and cynical towards
all religion. Ninety per cent of sectarian preaching is aimed simply
at destroying the Catholic Faith of the listeners. A favorite argument
is the appeal to national feeling. "Christ said, 'Love one
another as I have loved you.' But Catholic Spain did not love you;
it conquered you and held you in subjection. Therefore the Catholic
Church is not the true Church of Christ. But Protestant America
freed you from the tyranny of Spain; and loved you and gave you
independence. Therefore Protestantism is the only true religion
One sect has
its own radio station. It distributes wireless sets free among the
poor, but each set is sealed to one wave-length; only the Protestant
station can be tuned in. The result, these homes are subjected to
a daily battering of Protestant propaganda. Filipinos have an instinctive
love for the Blessed Virgin. Everywhere the children ask you for
pictures and medals of her. Some of the ministers have cashed in
on this and lure the Catholic children to their Bible classes by
giving them pictures of Our Blessed Lady. Once they have them, all
their love for the Mother of God is soon crushed out of their hearts.
The Protestant Y.M.C.A. has the Rosary said every night in their
Hostels for Girls in an attempt to get Catholic girls under their
influence. Even the unfortunate lepers are not spared. There is
one sanatorium where they are refused admittance or treatment unless
they first sign a paper renouncing their Catholic Faith.
All this is
made possible simply because of lack of priests. Give the Filipino
people the opportunity of practicing their Catholic Faith and there
is no nation in the world that can match them for fervor and loyalty.
But millions never come in contact with a priest during the years
in which they are growing up, simply because there are no priests
for them to come in contact with. When thirty thousand priests are
urgently needed here today, what can the mere handful of us here
at present do? Just keep on working, whilst hoping and praying more
priests will come to back us up in this desperate fight for the
soul of a Catholic nation.
act as a sort of flying-column; going into a district for a week
or two, baptizing young and old, fixing up marriages, hearing confessions,
saying Mass, answering the objections of the proselytizers, giving
the people a new pride in their Faith. These missions, repeated
every year, do tremendous good. Not only do those who went to the
Sacraments on a former mission return again, but at each mission
there are hundreds of adults who make their first confession and
first Holy Communion. This year in Santa Cruz, Maranduque, four
hundred adults made their first confession and one hundred and fifteen
adults were baptized. At Cabu, Cabanatuan, there were five hundred
adult first confessions. In Tacloban, Leyte, two thousand one hundred
marriages were rectified during the mission. At Redemptorist Missions
in the last twenty years over one hundred thousand marriages have
been rectified, and those people and their children brought back
to the practice of their Faith.
But once again,
this is only touching the fringe of the mission work that is possible.
The Australian and New Zealand Redemptorists are the only priests
engaged in this work, and there are only fifteen of us. We have
constantly to be refusing the requests of Bishops and priests to
give missions in their districts, and always the reason is, "We
have not the men available."
to the missions in the native dialect, retreats in English for the
universities and colleges are another major work. In Manila alone
there are ten large universities, with a student enrolment of nearly
one hundred and fifty thousand. At least one hundred and thirty
thousand of these are Catholic students. The Catholic University
of Santo Tomas, conducted by the Dominican Fathers, has twenty-four
thousand students; the Far Eastern University has thirty-five thousand.
Apart from Santo Tomas the majority of Varsity students have never
made their first confession or first Holy Communion, yet these in
the future are to be the intellectual leaders of a Catholic nation.
The Redemptorists conduct nearly all these retreats, and it is only
during them that the students get an opportunity of going to the
Sacraments in any number. For the confessions, of course, every
possible priest has to be called in. I walked out to give the first
lecture of a varsity retreat here, and when I turned around to face
the microphone, I almost fled in panic. There were a mere three
thousand girls in their white varsity uniforms and black Spanish
veils sitting in the vast chapel. And this, mind you, was just the
girls' section of one single subject- Pharmacy .
In the grade
schools of the city of Manila alone, there are over half a million
Catholic pupils. In spite of virulent opposition from the ministers
and the Masons, which is still continuing, the law allows Catechism
to be taught in the schools. This is done by Catechetical Guilds
and the Legion of Mary. In our part of the city, two Redemptorist
Fathers direct the instruction of twenty-four thousand children
in public schools. In the whole Philippine Islands there are five
million children on the school rolls according to latest official
Returning home from missions and retreats means not a few days'
rest, but the most intensive mission work of all in our Redemptorist
Church, four miles out of the city, at the end of the famous Dewey
Boulevard. Here a perpetual mission goes on. I suppose in New Zealand
or Australia, one of our larger churches, say a Cathedral, might
have seven or eight thousand people attending it each week. To the
Redemptorist Church in Manila there is a constant stream of one
hundred thousand people every week. I do not mean that the number
live in the district round the church, but one hundred thousand
actually attend the church every week. Confessions go on every day
of the week from six in the morning till late at night. The Holy
Communions average four thousand a week throughout the year. They
would be twenty thousand a week if only we had more priests to hear
for the Sacraments
You see the
people actually hungering for the Sacraments and there are not enough
priests to administer them. Here one poignantly realizes the utter
sadness of that text of Sacred Scripture: "The children
have cried for bread and there was none to break it to them."
After hours in the confessional it is heartbreaking to look out
and see the long lines of people queued up at the other empty confessionals,
patiently waiting for another priest to come, but waiting, as you
know, in vain. When we have to leave the confessional, we try not
to look at the faces of the people left unheard, there is too much
sadness and disappointment there. At times, some man or woman will
hold us by the sleeve and plead: "Please hear me, Father.
This is the first chance I have had in twenty years, and I have
been waiting here two hours already." It is then you really
do put feeling in the silent prayer: "Dear God, send us
more priests." Today, sixty out of every one hundred Catholics
in the Philippines who die, go into eternity without the Sacraments;
not because they are indifferent to these divine channels of Grace,
but simply because there is no priest to be called in answer to
their piteous request "Get me a priest, I am dying."
is the Philippine story; the story of a most lovable and loyal people;
of seventeen millions of your fellow Catholics a few hundred miles
from your shores.
for the Philippines; today your prayers can work miracles; to-morrow
they may be too late. Pray above all: "God send them priests
the pleading voice of the world's Redeemer "Pray ye, therefore,
the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth labourers into His harvest."
You have read
this moving story with interest. Now hand on this article to others,
that they too might read, and as you have done - Pray for the
Philippines. O Lord, send laborers into the Harvest!
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