This was the reaction of the communications chief of the Archdiocese of Manila and several Catholic bishops to a finding of a recent survey that there was a huge drop in the percentage of Filipinos going to Mass.
Peachy Yamsuan on Wednesday said the numbers in the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey were unbelievable because 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?’” she said in a text message.
The survey that SWS conducted from Feb. 15 to 17 found that 37 percent of Filipino Catholics said they go to church every week, a huge decline from the 64 percent 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 place for those who want to hear Mass,” said Yamsuan. But she said her statement did not represent that of her office or of the Archdiocese of Manila.
Leaving Church, less devout
The SWS survey also found that 9.2 percent of Filipino Catholics were considering leaving the Church.
The survey noted that Filipino Catholics were less devout than those belonging to other denominations or religion. Twenty-nine percent of Catholics considered themselves very religious. The figure was 50 percent among Protestants, 43 percent among Iglesia ni Cristo members, 41 percent among those belonging to other Christian denominations and 38 percent among Muslims.
Carlos Celdran, a tour guide and reproductive health advocate, said on Tuesday that the survey findings showed that Filipinos were becoming “a critical people” and were “slowly choosing reason over religion.”
Celdran added that the “stubborn and obsolete thinking of Filipino bishops were turning them (Catholics) away.”
Yamsuan noted that some priests were celebrating six Masses every Sunday just to cope with scheduled Masses in their parish chapels.
“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?” Yamsuan said.
Several Catholic bishops also aired the observation that Masses remained vibrant every Sunday in churches as well as in malls across the country.
‘Filled to capacity’
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said all the Masses being held in the 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, noting that this observation was the same in the 93 parishes of Jaro.
While there are those who stopped attending Sunday Mass, there have been new Catholics who have started to come to church regularly, he added. “So, it’s a matter of minus and plus.”
Msgr. Clemente Ignacio, rector of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church, said Mass attendance had also been increasing in the church, not only on Fridays when the mulatto Christ is venerated with novena and holy 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,” Ignacio said.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said 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 a vibrancy,” he said.
Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco also said he had not seen a decline of Mass-goers in his diocese. “In fact, the number of churchgoers has increased because we have mall Masses,” the bishop said.