The Religiosity of the Filipino Catholic Christians


Photo: St. Joseph Cathedral, Butuan City, Philippines (courtesy of the author)

Surveys on Filipino religiosity by the Social Weather Station (SWS) had consistently revealed a more privatized faith for the Filipino Christians, i.e., a Christian faith focusing only on private spirituality and lacking in social involvement. The results revealed that most Filipinos consider themselves very religious, with very strong beliefs in the existence of God and higher level of participation in religious activities.


In particular, the Filipino youth (within ages 15 and 30) regarded themselves as religious (extremely religious 9%, very religious 29% and somewhat religious 49% or a total of 89%) in a 1996 SWS survey commissioned for the Philippine Youth Commission. This high level of religiosity is not, however, accompanied by a strong social involvement, particularly in organizational involvement. Only 12 percent of the Filipino youth are involved in church and religious organizations as well as in sports and recreational organizations. With regard to participation in charitable institutions, only 3% of the youth are involved.


Photo credit: author

In general, most religiosity surveys revealed that the Filipino faith, although high in religious belief, lacked public character. Most of the popular Filipino religious practices are more oriented towards the individual and/or small circle of friends and relatives and lacking in structural dimension demanded by the CST.


Photo: Filipino Christians doing in penitence during Holy Week in the Philippines (Source:

The Filipino religious practice of penitensya (penitence) during Lent, for instance, encourages a pietistic and individualist orientation of faith. Though hugely popular, the devotion remains an individualist effort to atone one’s individual sin and lacking in social dimension. The popular devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo is also devoid of liberational dimension. Many devotees participated in the devotion as a form of personal and familial gratitude due to some material favors they received from the Black Nazarene.


Photo: The procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo (Source:

Fernando Zialcita, a Filipino anthropologist, confirmed this pattern in his earlier study of the black Nazarene devotion. His informants revealed that the motivation in joining the Black Nazarene devotion is more materialist in nature, deviating from the Church’s official spiritual on devotion.  Filipinos rate themselves very high in religiosity and religious beliefs but they did not seem to relate them to social issues and problems as indicated by religiosity surveys and popular devotions in the country like the Black Nazarene.


Photo credit: author

This finding is consistent with the study done by Dr. Ricardo Abad (2005) on the social capital of Filipinos: Filipinos tend to be affiliated more with their own smaller circles of relatives and friends and less in organizations and associations in the Church or in civil society. The Filipino Christianity is generally a privatized or personal one.

Sto. Nino

Photo: Sinulog procession in honor of the Sto. Nino in Cebu City, Philippines (Source:

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) says that most of the people’s faith today is centered on the practice of the rites of popular piety and not on community and of building up of the world into the image of the Kingdom (PCP #13), specifically on building up of a faith community and involvement in social issues (PCP II#17). For this reason PCP II recommended a rigorous catechism of the “unchurched” or “nominal” Catholics, that is, the vast majority of Catholics in the Philippines who greatly lack knowledge and formation in the Christian faith, particularly on the Church’s social doctrines. Thus, catechism and Christian formation of Filipino Catholics on the social doctrines of the Church are, therefore, urgently needed in order to develop their Christian social conscience and  spirituality of social transformation.


One must remember that the Christian faith is neither all about social activism and pietism nor solely about saving the individual’s soul, but a fine blend of spiritual and social struggle for the total liberation of the individual and society from all forms of personal and social sins. The Second Vatican Council emphasized that the mission of the Church in the contemporary world is helping human being to discover God as the ultimate meaning of his/her existence (CSDC #576). The Church’s mission is the total salvation of the individual and society from spiritual and material slavery.

Photo credit (except those with source): author, free photos

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