posted by Prime Sarmiento
photos by: Nina Sarmiento
(Note: this is the first part of my two-part series on post-modern spirituality)
I can't help but reflect about my own spirituality whenever I find myself wandering the Walled City of Intramuros.
Intramuros was the political center of the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines. But more than just a city surrounded by a fort to protect the Spanish empire from OTHER foreign invaders, it was also where Catholicism took root in the Philippines.
The Spanish friars, according to tour guide slash performance artist slash reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran, were molding Manila into a Vatican of Asia.
My lil sis and I were in tour conducted by perhaps the world's most renown (not to mention the most entertaining and most controversial) guide to Manila. Carlos was attired in his barong, hat and slippers, carried his portable mike while narrating sardonic anecdotes. He talked about the Spanish friars in Manila, on how priests from various denominations (Jesuits, Augustinians, Dominicans) came here back in the 16th century, and ordered indios to build churches made from adobe. The friars were so dedicated to making Manila a mini-Vatican that at one time Intramuros was home to seven churches. This didn't even include other Catholic strongholds – convents, schools and chapels.
Earthquakes and World War II destroyed most of the buildings in Intramuros. And of the seven, only two have been rebuilt and remained in Intramuros:
- The Manila Cathedral – known as the seat of the Archbishop of Manila, the minor basilica is dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
- San Agustin Church – the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon by the Spanish colonial government. The church is a very popular venue for weddings as it's one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines. From its ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images to gilded altars holding statues of saints to grand chandeliers and a dome decorated with trompe l’oeil – this church has everything to satisfy those with passion for interiors and decorative arts. It also has a museum which serves as a repository for religious artifacts and centuries-old artworks.
I will like to stress here that Carlos's five-hour tour of Intramuros is not a journey into the country's religious history. If you're traveling to the Philippines to go on a pilgrimage, this isn't for you as this is more of a heritage tour.
That said, no one can visit Intramuros (or travel the Philippines for that matter) without getting to know more about the Catholic faith.
Growing up Filipina means being Catholic. There might be exemptions, but this is a country where religion is so entrenched that going to church every Sunday is mandatory. Never mind if you're only going to church just to appease your guilt-tripping parents. Or that every time that you sign a document where you're required to fill up that empty space beside the word “religion”, you're tempted to write “Tibetan Buddhist” or “goddess spirituality”.
The operative word here is “guilt.” Centuries-old guilt borne from a religion that was imposed by a former colonial master. A religion with its rituals and exhortations of heaven and hell. A concept which didn't exist in pre-colonial Manila. Or as Carlos, in his typical wink-wink-nudge-style, asked; notice how the Filipinos have a Tagalog word for heaven (“langit” – derived from the Malay word for “sky”) but has no such equivalent for “hell” or “purgatory”. In the Philippines, hell is “impyerno” and “purgatory” is “purgatoryo” – both of Hispanic origin, hmmmmmmmm.
It is “guilt” and the concept of hell that seemed to inform (infected?) much of my spirituality. Reciting rosaries, saying novenas, going to church on Sundays – all mechanical stuff, no time for introspection, of connecting to what is truly divine. Of worrying if I'm doing the right thing because I'm afraid of being punished and cast to eternal damnation in the wild fires of hell (ok everyone that's a hyperbole, but you know what I mean).
It will take me years before I can release this guilt. Well, not completely, because it has been there for years, I suspect that "guilt" has been imprinted on my DNA. But years of trying to create my own spiritual path has allowed me to let go and practice a more post-modern spirituality so to speak.
(To be continued)
Walk This Way – This is the official blog of Carlos Celdran – the "man who is trying to change the way you look at Manila- one step at a time." For details about the tour you can call : 632 – 4844945 ; 63-920-9092021; or send an e-mail to [email protected]
Have you been to Intramuros? What impressed you while wandering the walled city? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. 🙂