Essay on The Spread of Christianity in the Philippines

The spread of Christianity in the Philippines is one of the most interesting issues in the history of the Philippines. In the 16-th century, the Spanish colonizers arrived on the shores of the Philippines. One of the major goals of Spaniards was to colonize the islands and Christianize the pagan native population. Spanish missionaries became the major tools of the spread of Christianity in the Philippines. It is known that today the Philippines is Asia’s only Christian nation with about 83% of Catholics and 9% of Evangelical Christians (Tope & Nonan-Mercado 73). There are also some other religions in the Philippines, including Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.  Today the Philippines is “the home to more than 4% of the world’s Christians”, according to Philip Jenkins (61).  Christianity in the Philippines has its unique characteristics and incorporates the elements of other religions.

The major goal of this paper is to discuss the history of the establishment and expansion of Christianity in the Philippines and the Impact of Christianity on the Philippine culture, paying special attention to the connection between Filipino characteristics and Christianity.

The History of the Establishment and Expansion of Christianity in the Philippines

Christianity in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish colonization. It is interesting to notice that in order “to Christianize the pagan Filipino, top priority was given by the Spanish missionaries to the building of Spanish Catholic churches and the carving of sacred images of the new religion”, according to Mellie Leandicho Lopez (349). Christianity was spread in different ways. First of all, the priests, nuns, monks and other church servants were allowed to occupy different social positions of power. Secondly, the Spanish Catholic Church planned to expand rapidly throughout the islands. This plan led to the physical presence of a large number of church buildings and church networks even in distant rural areas of the archipelago. The Spanish missionaries built many impressive churches in which they preached the path to salvation.

In addition, many Filipino writings connected with pagan religion were destroyed by Spanish missionaries with the major goal ”“to accelerate the spread of Christianity in the Philippines. The ancient Filipino records were written on bamboo and the leaves of plants and some Spanish missionaries and historians, including Pigafetta, Loarca, Alcina, Retana and others, worked to preserve the historical documents that their religious compatriots wanted to destroy (Lopez 349).

The Spaniards were sure that Christianity was a good religion for the Filipinos, while   Filipinos were not asked about their religious preferences. Mellie Leandicho Lopez states that “the conquered people quietly acquiesced but shrewdly welded their old beliefs to the new Christian religion of the conquerors” (26). However, it is wrong to think that the Spaniards were tyrants who forced Filipinos to follow their principles and rules and wanted to replace their native customs and traditions. In other words, Filipinos did not totally borrow the culture of the conquerors, but selected specific influences that suited to their needs, their character and temperament.

In addition, it is known that in order to accelerate the spread of Christianity, the Spanish parish priests lived among the Filipinos and in the local parishes. They made efforts to speak local languages in order to explain the locals the major principles of the Christian faith. However, many indigenous people continued to practice pagan religion behind the backs of the Spanish priests. Although the Spanish colonists imposed Christianity, “it would be inaccurate to say that the local people fully accepted the foreign religion,” according to Lily Rose R. Tope and Detch P. Nonan-Mercado (70).

Moreover, the spread of Christianity in the Philippines is associated with ceasing headhunting practices. For example, in Ilongot, due to widespread conversion to Christianity headhunting was “the thing of the past” (Yang 156). The Gospel changed the mind of the Filipinos. The Gospel entered their lives and most of them became new men and gave up killing practices, including headhunting tradition. For the Christian missionaries, headhunting was not only a murderous act, but also a sign of an unruly and pagan otherness” (Yang 161). Those Filipinos who were involved in headhunting practices were unknowingly bound to Satan and required salvation from the so-called spiritual darkness. This fact means that many Filipinos were in danger because of headhunting. Headhunting tradition prevented many people in the Philippines from converting to Christianity.

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