My brother sent me this picture a few days ago, asking me if I had ever had this many people turn up for a dawn Mass! The only dawn Masses I have had recently were during the summer when I had a 7am Tridentine Mass ( `private` of course given episcopal restrictions and continuing lack of the new indult) which attracted at most 4 people. This is a picture of the Mass last week in Cebu for the feast of the Santo Nino ( the infant Jesus) which attracted a congregation of 700,000. I was fortunate a few years ago to spend time in Cebu when I went to baptise my nephew, James. I found the Philippines to be an absolutely fascinating country. While I enjoyed being in a Catholic country, I was there for two Sundays but on neither of them was I at Mass in a church. The first weekend I concelebrated at a Mass in the open air community centre of the area in which my brother was living while he was working there. The main celebrant was one of the staff from the local seminary: his sermon appeared to be the continuation of a series which was deconstructing the Gospel of Mark and offering an introduction to the joys of form criticism. The next Sunday, Mass was in a rather exclusive sports club where a local Monsignor was the celebrant. He was immaculate in his white cassock and preached about resisting the temptation to fall into the culture of corruption which permeates so much of public life there. He also said that while the Philippines is proud to be Asia`s only Catholic nation, in fact only 20% attend Mass regularly. I wondered whether the somewhat sterile masses I had the opportunity to attend may have had something to do with this given the evidence of popular devotion everywhere you looked. A sad experience was a visit to the island of Bohol which has some of the finest Spanish 17th century Spanish churches in a bad state of decay. One I remember best had a glorious reredos with niches for saints in the Spanish style but which had recently lost a number of the original statues through theft. The attached museum had a display of ancient decaying vestments, church silver and missals.
We have a growing number of Philippino families here in the Forest and I sometimes wonder what they make of our rather pared-down version of Catholicism, with its bare churches, compared to the flamboyance of the devotional life back home.