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3 Reasons why Catholic education is failing in the Philippines… and elsewhere

Sadly, students in the Philippines equate Catholicism with hard-to-remember intellectual words, and not a sacred, life-changing relationship.

Last January, I asked my students to fill in this sentence, “I believe in ____.”

I teach at a Jesuit university in the Philippines that has produced presidents, heroes, priests and some of our country’s best professionals. So, when I asked them to fill in the blank, it wasn’t to break the ice. I wanted a peek into my country’s religious future.

Despite the Philippines being 80% Catholic, only two of my 63 students filled in the blank with “God.” No one mentioned Jesus. Most answers were existential abstractions like “freedom,” “hard-work” and “positivity.” I wasn’t too surprised.

This exercise reminded me that despite our label, Catholicism among Filipinos is little understood. Because if it were better understood, I don’t think they’d be satisfied with believing in mere concepts. Of course, “change” and “choice” are powerful words. “Positivity” and “goodness,” magnetic. Still, these are faceless ideals.

Their answers revealed that even with a decade of Catholic education, few really know the potent secret of their inherited creed. Most can’t see that Catholicism is about all these powerful ideas, but also much more because the Catholic God has a face and a name. The Catholic God continues to call, speak, and thirst for human connection.

From my own upbringing in Manila’s Catholic school system and conversations with other religious educators, I notice three causes behind this sad trend.

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