Saturday, July 02, 2011

Sandugo, Faith, and the Culture of Bohol

In the five years of my stay in the Diocese of Tagbilaran, I have always savored the beauty of creation that is Bohol and the grandeur of human ingenuity as expressed by the many antique Churches, the deep religious life of the people and their vibrant faith in the Transcendent. I have seen closely the refined culture of the Boholanos reflected in the artistic way they build their houses and public buildings, captured by the solemn hymns and liturgical cantatas in the Church, articulated in the lullaby, the haranas, and other love songs, conveyed by the motion of the body in dances, emotionally played by string and wind musical instruments, and communicated by a language that is simply a pleasure to hear.
It is within this context that the month of July is of great consequence to the Boholanos. It showcases the cultural heritage that they love and visitors admire. It is the month dedicated to the “Sandugo” event, a historical happening that started the great religious and cultural evolution. It was not an earth-shaking occurrence as the Declaration of Independence of the Philippines. But, for the Boholanos it was far-reaching in its effect. It was a sort of a MOA, a Memorandum of Agreement, between the Filipino Natives and Spain to come together, plan together, work together, and cooperate in the building up of a nation based on the Faith in God and in Jesus Christ the Saviour. The signing of that Treaty of friendship was indeed unique and dramatic. Living blood was used in the sealing of the agreement. It is called a blood compact – Sandugo. The protagonists were the Boholano chieftain Sikatuna and the Spanish leader Legazpi. History states that this Treaty was made around 25 March 1565. With that the colonization of the Philippines by Spain and the baptism of its inhabitants as Christians was definitively sealed. Sizing the importance of this event, the Boholanos have decided to celebrate this event not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

From that Sandugo event of 1565, Bohol through the years has evolved religiously, culturally, socially, economically. Now it has become a center of tourism. Thousands of foreigners as well as local tourists come in droves to Bohol through cars, planes, and fast crafts. The influx of tourists is simply overwhelming.

I, of course, am happy with all that I see. But the experience has caught me off balance, a bit puzzled of what to do with this overwhelming phenomenon. I know that the great influx of visitors bespeaks of the greatness of the place, but as a religious leader I have to contend with religious questions that come with the issue at bar. For one how will tourism affect the religious sensitivity and culture of our people? These old yet stately Churches have been there for centuries to receive and serve the native congregation that has been for years “of one heart and one soul,” worshipping the God whom they have known as their Provider and Savior and serving one another as an expression of their awareness as one Christian community. It has been out of these Churches, complete with intricate works of art in images, signs and symbols for evangelization, liturgy and devotion, that a culture which is typically Boholano was born and has developed and matured. Now these same Churches are frequented by tourists and other individuals whose interest are far from being inserted into the religious life of the native folks. Can a World Heritage Church be adapted to a mixed congregation of worshipers? How can it meet the needs of both the local community and the amorphous group of tourists and visitors?

Faced with such realities, I have to dig deep into the accepted teaching of the Church on religious iconography and the discipline that it has established to regulate the proper actions related to the Churches and works of art. Here I come across the traditional teaching that the patrimony of the Church is profoundly connected with the truths of faith. Through the years these works of art have served the mission of the particular Church to come up with a response to the deep religious longing of man for the transcendent, to provide contemporary individual the tool to experience more vividly the religious wonder at beauty and wisdom captured in images, lines, and hues. Faith after all has that innate power “to express itself in artistic forms and historical witness that have an intrinsic evangelizing force and cultural valence before which the Church is called to pay her maximum attention” (cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio “Inde a Pontificatus Nostri initio, March 25, 1993).

Liturgy is the formal expression of this faith. It is the official worship of the Community that is formed by this faith, the stance of the People of God in its attempt to reach out to the Infinite whose nature is Truth and Beauty. As such it has to be articulated with beautiful signs and symbols. With the purpose of drawing the worshipers’ mind and heart to God, liturgy has to make use of what is refined and artistic. They should be fitting expressions of the congregation’s faith. They are not mere additives or decors, but essential language of the soul in contact with the Creator.

The sacredness of the signs and symbols comes from an interior vision of an artist in his act of stretching out his God-given talent to touch the exalted One with the end in view of expressing it in lines, colors and images. In turn these images, signs and symbols, coming as they are from a deep contemplation of the artist, have appropriated that innate power to lead man to awe and wonderment, to profound prayer and meditation. As such these artistic images, signs and symbols have become proper instruments for the service of Liturgy and catechism.

To save Bohol from the influence of secularism and materialism as well as relativism in norms of human conduct and behaviour that comes with the influx of visitors of varying perceptions in life, the Church must remind the people time and time again of preserving and conserving the Faith, the works of art such as the Churches, songs and dances that are inspired by this deep religious belief, and the cultural refinements that they have received. They are pearls of great price.