In the second part of his conversation with FSSPX.News, Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer discusses the challenges facing the practice of the Faith by the residents of the Philippines.
Father, what are the fruits of your work since your arrival in the Philippines?
Not much, it’s difficult. The Philippines is a very Catholic country so our work is accepted right away, but nothing changes. It’s almost like it was in India. One of our priests had been in India for seven years. He said, “Indians are not opposed to change; they just don’t change.” In the Philippines, they accept the Faith, they know they’re Catholic and their Faith is in their heart, so they don’t need to change. “My Faith is here; Mama Mary is there…” So it’s harder for them to make, let’s say, a radical change. In America they don’t believe in anything. They don’t believe and if a person starts believing, they know they’ve got to change. Here, everybody believes, it’s in their heart, so why do I need to change? I don’t need the change. So, their habits continue. So, the difficult thing is to really make a change in the habits and to give the thought process, the idea to enable to the person to begin to change their habits and to take on really the habits of grace. That’s the hard thing!
So, what we’ve done in Mindanao is just to try to establish a network of catechism centers and in the beginning we had a pretty big network but it’s almost the same network now with a lot of dead catechism centers. In the beginning, there were many children, now there are fewer. In the beginning, there were many with fewer fruits, now there are fewer with more fruits. In the beginning we might have 400 children in the catechism centers with parents who were not married and living in an environment that was not really conducive to the Faith and who never persevered and we would have 10-30% going to the sacraments. Now we are down to 200 or 300 and we get 30-60% coming to the sacraments. Some are now in the Legion of Mary and some are becoming good youths. So there are fewer children, but more fruits.
The fruits have not yet impacted the family, where the families are getting married and we have not yet impacted the family insofar as bringing the big families back to the Philippines. Only now we are starting to see families of our own people who have maybe four or five children. This is a big struggle and throughout Asia, the big obstacle is contraception. Here, the doctor’s work is accepted like the priest’s. And so, if you have a child in a hospital, your number two child will always be a cesarean section and after second child, the doctor will say,“You can’t have any more cesarean sections,” so the women will be sterilized.
It’s not automatic, but it’s practically automatic.
They are encouraged or they ask the woman to not have any more children?
I don’t know if they have to. All I really know is that women who have children in a hospital will almost always have a cesarean section. The second one will be too and then there will be no more children. And then, let’s say, you are living in the mountains. People there will have more children than those in the cities, and they go to the midwife and not a doctor. But then you have all of these nurses here who are catechized with contraception. Part of their training as a nurse is to go into the mountains and teach people how to brush their teeth, wash their hands, and practice contraception. That’s part of the training. And free medicine, that is contraception, is given away. I always tell people, “Throw your medicine away” every time they get free medicine so, in American and so on, you know in Europe, people are more independent-minded even though they desire to practice contraception, it is not going to be put upon you by the doctors. They may encourage you, but then the woman will make her decision and the doctor will respect it. But here they are just told to accept contraception and they accept it. They don’t know what to do; they accept it. So it’s just widespread and it is killing the people. It’s horrible and what can you do?
This is our biggest problem. How do we really sanctify the family? To change the habits of the family? The fact is that it’s a poor country and the economics are not built upon the husband; it’s built upon the wife. Now how in the world can you have more children when the economics is built upon the wife? So we’ve got a worse situation. It’s really strange. It’s a very Catholic country. The women here are extraordinary people. They really are womanly, feminine, and yet they support the family mostly and they have a great Catholic Faith so it’s really strange, it just doesn’t make sense. They’re very Catholic, but the world is backwards. Asia is just full of contradictions: it’s very Catholic, but backwards and our difficulty is really to strengthen the man in the family, the husband, the father, and to create in the family a network that’s really Catholic and to create an economy that is really Catholic and we’re left with our hands tied. The bishops don’t understand this at all. They’re only concerned with human rights. The bishops don’t do anything of what they should be doing on this level. They don’t understand the Catholic social teaching, so this situation is a disaster.
There was an idea to have a sort of education for women during the mission. But is it not possible?
It is possible, but it’s difficult because they need to be in their own environment. We have to go to where they are and you have to figure out and meet the schedule. It’s possible but you have to work in the area. It could be done here but there’s just too much coming and going. That’s a two-days seminar which is a long time and then what really needs to be done is how to budget your money, how to save money in the home, how to feed your children and they would be very happy to hear all of this but this requires a whole catechetical structure which is enormous and it requires a structure for the men also.
So right now in our apostolate we’re trying to form that structure upon the MI. We’ve already started the MI Brotherhood so that we can work with the men. So once we have this structure up for the men, we can go to the MI family conference which will be for the women. Now when we have that in order we can take the men and talk and the women too and really begin to work at a grass-roots level of helping the family to adopt Catholic principles. They’ll be very happy and they’ll be very accepting of it but to do it is a tremendous network. You see that our priests are super busy saying Mass. Just to say Mass! Talk about catechism – that’s really deep. Then you talk about a conference for men and women – now we’re going way out there. This is just the scapular and miraculous medal and trying to remind them of their duties but to really establish the Catholic family is incredible. I never realized how much goes into a Catholic family until you’re here trying to figure that out!
So we’re trying to rebuild society with a cardboard box. Have you ever picked up a cardboard box with a wet bottom? You pick it up and then everything falls out of the box? That is this situation, you know? That’s our problem, so how to you make the cardboard not wet anymore and strengthen it? We’re working on that but we’re very far. We’re living in a part of the world that’s just like the rest of the world. It’s very bad. Our advantage here is that people accept the Catholic Faith. They accept the ideas, but they don’t know so we’ve got to teach them and then the Church around them doesn’t help them, the priests don’t know and the bishops don’t know. It’s not much different than an apostolate anywhere else except for it’s a little easier because the people are Catholic. Maybe it’s a little more exciting because we get to be on the edge of the Communists at the fringes of our apostolate.
Now you did touch on this, maybe if you have anything to add. Do you have a way to follow up with the people who have come seeking aid to the Mission?
Yes, that’s why we’re doing it in Polomolok because we’re within our chapel so our catechism can get going among the people here in Polomolok we can make MI’s, who, if they are faithful, we can teach them to help follow up, work with the people, and then we can develop a network. Then that can begin to touch the family. It’s a long work, it just takes forever and we’re short on manpower but we have catechists here in Polomolok, catechists in Quezon, but they are older ladies, so they have a tendency to run out of energy. Then we have our young ladies, but as soon as they go get married we don’t see them anymore, so it’s a problem.
What are the greatest obstacles to the Faith among the Filipino people?
The greatest obstacle is the clergy—they simply don’t teach the catechism. If the clergy would teach the Catholic Faith the people would be super Catholic. The clergy they only worry about their power and their little place and that is the biggest obstacle. The second obstacle is the LGBT movement that is going full blast. Because the government, even though President Duterde is fighting the Church. The government of the Philippines is not so bad; it is almost Distributist. I mean the Mayor is an important person. He really does a lot of work in this place, then the Mayor, the people really have something to do in their place. It’s not all centralized so if you can work with that, you can make a big difference. It’s not like Distributism in the Catholic social principles, but in practice, it’s very similar. The organization of the Philippines is the family expanded to the government level. When you see the President talking to the people in the public conferences it is like we’re talking right now. He’s not some guy on a podium giving a speech on the television. He’s really in touch with the people. The whole network of the Philippines is a social network based on family economics. Once you can get into that network and find a way to work within it, it’s quite a structure.
Our marriage mission works and because the Church has been preaching the separation of Church and State. They understand that it, so then they’re shocked when we go to the State without their permission. So they’re telling us, why are you following the parish priest? That’s not the Church. We don’t need the permission of the parish priest because this is under the Mayor. Then they say to us, “Why?” Because Mary said, “Spread the devotion to my Immaculate Heart in the world.” They have it in their heads: a separated Church and State. They don’t really practice it because the bishop has a lot of power and he is their leader and they’ll accept it. What we have happening now and that everywhere where we were accepted is that we’re not as accepted anymore. But because they know, they give passive support, but not public because they’re with the bishop, but they support underneath, so it still works.
Thank you so much for sharing about your work. Thank you for the wonderful interview and God bless you, Father.