By Heritier Mesa –
On October 1st and 2nd, at the beginning of the Mission Month, the Xaverian Missionaries gathered for their regional assembly, here in Manila, at the International Theologate Community. Every year, indeed, this has been a momentous opportunity to review their missionary journey in this country. The guest speaker was Randy David, a very much renowned Filipino sociologist and journalist, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He conducted the Xaverian meeting for the whole morning of the first day.
Mr. Randy David spoke about Filipino Modernity, i.e. what are the major changes the Philippine society is going through? One may eventually ask what is wrong with the Philippines society? (a question we could apply to every society in the world). In fact, nothing is wrong with the Philippines society and yet, as Mr. David would say, everything is wrong with this society.
Like many other developing countries, the Philippines has been struggling for adjustment to the demands of the modern society which is characterized by functional differentiation, as an alternative to traditional societies. In the modern world, much more attention is given to what one does rather than to what one is. Thus the need of underlining the differenciation of roles and fields in order to avoid conflicting identity and to promote structural development. Today, with the globalization, in the post-colonialism countries, a society or a civilization has to be modern in order to survive. Obviously, as for many other third-world countries, the cost of this has been heavy to the Philippines. Indeed, this shift from the traditional society to the modern world is not, and has never been an easy task for many societies. At the current stage of the process towards modernization, an apparent result is that the country is stuck in the transitional stage, between the two poles. This could be summarized by the famous Antonio Gramsci’s paradigm: “La crisi consiste precisamente nel fatto che il vecchio sta morendo e il nuovo non può ancora nascere” (This is the crisis: The old is dying already, whereas the new cannot be born yet) …and monsters could be born instead! The contradiction or lack of fit between institutions and the “instincts” of people, as well as some dysfunctionalities within the present societal structure might illustrate well this dilemma.
Hopefully, the Philippines as others, will move on from this conflictual situation. Yet, these changes and problems have significance for the Church and particularly for missionaries today. How and what should be the task of the Church in such society? Or more profoundly as for Mr. David, “What is the proper role of the Church in the Public Square?” The shift to the modern society will certainly bring about new challenges. Yes, the Church in the Philippines has to be aware of the challenge, and as Benedict XVI would say, has to find out the role of faith in a world that is ruled by secularism. For this, the Church should avoid to interfere in politics and other secular matters, like in pre-modern time. Because in doing so, “it risks eroding its moral standing as a shepherd of the entire flock and thus finds itself in danger of becoming entangled in the conflicts of the temporal world.” From David’s point of view, the task of the Church is two-fold: to invest in Christian and human education and to speak out its moral option in all public spheres, without interfering. This is the way of becoming “Light in the World”, and witness in the Philippines Society.