Our study trip to the Philippines allowed us to witness many different aspects to the society and culture of the people that live there. We observed people from the more affluent sectors of society to those of the poverty stricken people that continue to live in extremely poor conditions. We learned about the education system that exists in the country today, both the Catholic schools and Colleges to the public schools. We were told of their triumphs as well as some of the challenges and struggles that the education system has. We also witnessed the extreme commitment that the people have with their faith and devotion, both those in urban areas and in rural provinces.
There were many signs of the very high level of religiosity that exists through their practices and beliefs. Through our immersion into these contrasting aspects, there was an overpowering amount of evidence of a strong sense of hope that exists in these beautiful people. A hope that originates from within but is outwardly shown through their everyday activities. A hope for food and shelter, a hope for a better life, a hope for salvation.
A very interesting and challenging aspect of our visit to the Philippines for me was our visit to Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag. This was the site where thousands of people gathered to worship and to show their devotion to their faith. It was a site that revealed to me the concept of Popular Religion, and specifically popular Catholicism. This was a site of the religion for the masses. We observed, witnessed and participated with the people. My encounter here surprised me, as I was so inspired to call on my own faith and beliefs. I wanted to be a part of everything that was happening. I questioned why all these thousands of people were doing what they were doing, and it drove me to be a part of the experience and to feel what they were feeling.
Our study trip was one of many contrasts. The experiences we had, the people we met, the level of devotion and beliefs, were all part of the journey of ups and downs that we had. These experiences also challenged me to rethink and evaluate our society and culture back in Australia, and perhaps how we could do things better. It also made me aware that we could be doing more to help our fellow neighbour as Jesus called us to do. I also felt that I was challenged on my own faith journey and was able to appreciate the many aspects that were presented to us on the encounter that we had.
Stuart Lemos, Master of Religious Education Director of Religious Education, St Patrick's College