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18 January 2015

"Why I Won't Be in Luneta Today" (Pope Francis in the Philippines)

Photograph by Rob San Miguel
by Jonas Bagas

I was in Luneta the last time a Pope was in the Philippines, along with millions of young Filipinos. We prayed, sang, and cheered for Pope John Paul II (“Juan Pablo Segundo, Te Quiere Todo El Mundo!”); we felt that quiet elation, when, like a gradual revelation, the crowd hushed as the mass for the World Youth Day began. When I saw Pope John Paul inside his Popemobile, I, too, was moved to tears.

I can relate to what millions of Filipinos are feeling right now, having gone through the same fervid religious ecstasy and the same swelling of pious hope when the Bishop of Rome came. Then, as it is now, the living monarch of the Catholic faith was welcomed with a giant fiesta.

This time, though, I won’t be joining the crowd. During the years between the two papal visits, I left the religion assigned to me at birth.

In the Philippines, you don’t become Catholic; you’re born Catholic. Your conception and your naming, your education, your marriage and your death – they are governed by the rituals and beliefs attached to Catholicism, until religion melds with your skin, such that NOT seeing Catholicism and its symbols starts to feel wrong and abnormal.

You absorb all the values and beliefs given to you: prayer trumps preparation, because one’s fate is predetermined; talent is god-given, and talent exhibited by Filipinos here and elsewhere is a sign that we are favored by god; sex is for procreation, not pleasure. Anything else that may appear unreasonable or inconsistent should be relegated to that region of the faith where the mysterious ways of god is unfathomable and unknowable. You accept, surrender and follow. Faith is blind.

It would be misleading and incorrect to say that my homosexuality and my acceptance of it caused my decision to leave the religion. There was no abrupt abandonment of a belief system that shaped me, and to which professed deep love. It was, instead, a slow, painful, and liberating sloughing of the corrupt trappings of Catholicism, and the discovery, in the end, that one can be good without being Catholic.

What my homosexuality did, though, was distill the questions that Catholicism, as lived by its preachers, failed to answer and couldn’t answer. Growing up, I was drawn closer to Catholicism because of its emphatic solidarity with human suffering, how it calls for the redemption of the poor and the dignity of the marginalized.

Why, then, does the Church participate in the dehumanization of the powerless? There are those who are taunted, humiliated, abused, harmed, and even killed, because of who they are, and yet the religion where compassion and solidarity are moral currencies is actively involved in the business of hatred, of exclusion, and the immoral accumulation of wealth. This is the Year of the Poor, Pope Francis proclaimed, so why then that in this country, a rich church keeps getting richer, and the poor keeps getting poorer?

I could have stayed and wrestled with these issues within the walls of the Church. But to truly follow the teachings of the Catholic faith, one needs to question and dismantle the power that the Catholic Church has unjustly built for itself. In the past few days, we have heard Pope Francis’ moving words against corruption, poverty, and social exclusion. We cannot realize his wishes by turning a blind eye to a religion that has enabled these problems and a church that actively participates in corruption, one that reproduces poverty by encouraging social exclusion.

Jonas Bagas is a long time
gay activist who owns a 
dog named Kuya
A few days ago, Pope Francis warned us against an “ideological colonization” that is trying “to destroy the family.” For more than three hundred years now, we’ve been colonized by the ideology of exclusion espoused by the Catholic Church, one that has fractured the Filipino family for ages. It has resulted in Filipino parents rejecting their LGBT children, and it has harmed LGBT family members who have been forced, through faith-based stigma, physical abuse, conversion, and different forms of violence.

I am heeding Pope Francis' warning, and that's why I am not going to Luneta today.


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