On Catholicism and Growing Up

I grew up in a predominantly Catholic country. My parents would drag my siblings and I to Church every Sunday. We’d do Catholic traditions every year, such as visiting churches during Holy Week, praying the rosary as a family, and many others. Growing up in a Catholic country means that the faith is almost enforced upon you in every waking breath. My English teacher would tell an eleven year old me to capitalize the word “God” in my essays, because I would go to hell. I went to an all-girls school that was ran by nuns, and they would repeatedly preach about abstaining from premarital sex, that “God hates homosexuals” because it is vile. I remember them scolding a friend of mine from hugging me, because we were “too close” and that it’s wrong. As I grew older, I started asking questions. If God was full of kindness and love and compassion, then why was His church preaching so much hate?

“Ssssh,” someone hissed. We weren’t allowed to ask questions in the Church.

We were not allowed to ask questions, it seems. We were simply told to obey and believe and accept.

Eventually, I fell out of my religion and stopped going to Church. I couldn’t bring myself to go and hear about how the reproductive health bill that the government in my country was trying to pass was “anti-Bible” (it’s not. it’s a bill that is meant to help women), how homosexuality was a sin. I have friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and they’re the kindest, loving people I know. I attended a friend’s wedding and was shocked when the priest told her to be “submissive”, and had traumatic flashbacks of my parents’ abusive relationship. I deviated from the Church because I simply no longer agree with what they were teaching, and decided to approach my relationship with God on my own. 

I deviated from the Church because I simply no longer agree with what they were teaching, and decided to approach my relationship with God on my own. 

Fast forward to years later when I moved on the opposite side of the world and attended a Catholic university. I had expectations, and they all shattered immensely because in here, the religion was taught and approached a lot differently.

I attended mass for the first time in years and I didn’t know what to expect. But it was my birthday, and I wanted to thank God for another year in my life. And it was… refreshing? Enthralling? to hear about kindness and love and most of all, acceptance of others, regardless. Because the teaching was that Jesus taught about how Church is open to everyone. And for the first time, I felt right with Catholicism.

And for the first time, I felt right with Catholicism.

I read up more on theology and took Biblical scholarly studies at University. My theological studies were eons different from how Catholicism was taught in the Philippines. We were taught about how social justice is part of the Church’s mission, because caring for others is simply the mission of the Church. We were taught how it’s the Magisterium’s responsibility to redefine certain notions about Catholicism so that it can adapt and be applied to the contemporary world. We were taught about how Catholicism and feminism can come together, how Jesus himself wanted to challenge and change women’s societal roles, because He wanted them to become more. Most of all, we were encouraged to ask questions, because it helps us understand our religion better. 

There’s a lot more that I want to go into, such as the pagan origins of Catholic practices, or how scholarly biblical studies really opened my eyes about the origins of the Bible and how a lot of it is taken out of context today to preach about… things that aren’t really in line with Catholicism. (For instance, there were no implications about how homosexuality is wrong. None. The quote that was often used against it was mistranslated from Hebrew language, it was originally referring to a man lying in bed with a child. It talked about pedophilia, not homosexuality.)

I had more questions. If Spain was the country that brought this religion to the Philippines and as a country, they can be open and progressive, then why can’t the Philippines adapt and be the same? Why are they prohibiting progress under the guise of religion, when the religion supposedly teaches us to be more open, to grow, to care for others?

I found my way back into my Catholic religion once I realized that how it’s approached in my country is a problem. In here, Church leaders acknowledge that the religion is not perfect, and it never started that way either. There were a lot of debates throughout history (such as debating about Jesus’ divine and human identity or Mary’s role as the Mother of Jesus, but not Mother of God). But we grow along with the contemporary world, because it’s part of our journey to understand our religion.

Sadly, it’s not the case back at home. I recently visited the Philippines some time ago and attended mass, and the priest literally mentioned in the homily about how “Death” is an acronym for “Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, ‘Total Use of Contraception’, and Homosexuality.” I was horrified. Beyond horrified. Also, what a total lie.

I discussed this with my friends and we talked about how in our history, Spanish friars used the religion to invoke fear among people and kept masses in place. It was always about power, which is why even though it’s been decades since the Spaniards left, the culture in the Philippines remained the same.

I felt more at home with how Catholicism is approached in the Western world. But it truly makes me feel sad about how my home country is out of touch, and I wonder if the Philippines will ever see change.


Cariza is a writer based in Washington, DC. If drinking coffee and writing sad poetry were a personality, it'd be her.