MANILA, Philippines—If more Filipino Catholics were indeed leaving the Church, how come parishes are continuously sprouting across the country and some priests celebrate more than five Masses on Sundays?
Peachy Yamsuan, communications chief of the Archdiocese of Manila, raised these questions Wednesday in a bid to challenge an SWS survey showing that one out of 11 Filipino Catholics sometimes considered leaving the Church and more were no longer attending Mass.
Several Catholic bishops, in telephone interviews, also aired the same observation — that Masses remained vibrant every Sunday in churches as well as in malls across the country.
The survey actually asked respondents if they sometimes felt like leaving the church. SWS said, however, there was evidence to back an assertion by the Jesuit priest Joel Tabora in a Feb. 7 blog that “people have been leaving the Catholic Church” and it was time that SWS did a survey.
Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo said all the Masses at his cathedral were “still filled to capacity.”
“The nine Masses in Jaro Cathedral are still filled to capacity. Priests maintain their Masses also in the barrios,” said Lagdameo, a former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, claiming that this observation was the same in the 93 parishes of Jaro, the name by which the Iloilo diocese is known.
He added that while some people have really stopped attending Sunday Mass, new Catholics were also going to church regularly. “So, it’s a matter of minus and plus,” said Lagdameo.
In a text message, Yamsuan said the numbers showed in the SWS survey were unbelievable since parishes were continuously created, citing the dioceses of Antipolo, Malolos and Imus, to name a few.
“The Diocese of Imus has more new parishes created in the past 10 years or so… which begs the question, why create parishes if the number of Mass-goers is dwindling?” said Yamsuan.
Based on the survey, only 37 percent of Filipino Catholics said they go to church every week, a huge decline from the 64 percent registered in 1991.
“That’s a huge drop [and] you would think several churches would have closed by now. Yet parishes are being created. And what to say about mall masses? Practically all SM malls have a Mass if not more,” said Yamsuan, clarifying that her statement did not represent the position of her office or that of the Archdiocese of Manila.
She said that some priests even have to celebrate up to six Masses every Sunday just to cope with the number churchgoers.
“So, can we accept the statistics without real evidence like an almost empty church on a Sunday or a parish church with only two Masses scheduled on a Sunday, except of course those out in the boondocks?” she said.
She also wondered if surveyors have seen the large Mass attendance at the churches of Quiapo and Baclaran and the National Shrine of St. Jude in Manila.
Msgr. Clemente Ignacio, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church, said Mass attendance has also been increasing in the church, not only on Fridays when the mulatto Christ is venerated with novenas and Masses.
The number of people who observed the traditional Visita Iglesia last Holy Week also multiplied, the priest noted.
“In Quiapo, Mass attendance has been increasing even during the last Visita Iglesia,” said Ignacio.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said that in the 26 parishes of the capital of South Cotabato, more Catholics were attending Mass. “I have visited 17 parishes and the findings also show vibrancy,” said Gutierrez.
Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said he has not seen any decline in Mass-goers in his diocese. “In fact, the number of churchgoers has increased because we have mall Masses,” he said.