500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines: Fr. Rex Rocamora's Interview with Fr. Brendan Lovett

This interview was featured in an online symposium, “Remembering Tatay Bido: A Man of Contemplation”, as part of a series of symposia celebrating the Year of Interreligious Dialogue (2020) in the Philippine Church.

500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines

Brendan Lovett recalls how the wisdom of Bishop Benny Tudtud encouraged the Church in the Philippines to grow in its relationship with the other faith traditions in the archipelago

Fr. Rex

Interview with Rex Rocamora

Inter-religious Dialogue Coordinator

 

Rex: I interviewed Brendan Lovett about Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, known to many as Tatay Bido, the first prelate in Marawi, asking him about his memories of the late bishop as a missionary, as a contemplative and about his practice of interreligious dialogue and the living out of his Christian faith. This interview was featured in an online symposium, “Remembering Tatay Bido: A Man of Contemplation”, as part of a series of symposia celebrating the Year of Interreligious Dialogue (2020) in the Philippine Church.

Rex: Brendan spoke about how Bishop Benny mediates the great love of God to every person that he meets. Brendan believes that Bishop Benny’s choice to move to the overwhelmingly Muslim, Marawi City, from the more comfortable Diocese of Iligan Diocese indicated a personal freedom and an integrity that was rare at the time. Brendan continued:

The Spanish form of Christianity did a dreadful disservice to the Philippines, precisely by totally denigrating anything to do with the ‘Moros’ (Muslims) because of their experience in Spain with the Moors (Moros). Bishop Benny Tudtud had the insight that this narrative had shaped the next three centuries in terms of catholic attitudes and had created a dreadful divisive barrier, but worse again, because once you come to see people as the enemy then you have no qualms about attacking them in all kinds of ways. Bishop Benny grasped the culpability of the church in regard to creating a situation in which it was very, very difficult for both parties to live together without killing each other. These levels of enmity that were now being generated by the church's way of viewing these people, was something about which Bishop Benny had become all too aware.

 

Rex: Do you believe Bishop Tudtud was a mystic?

I honestly think that he had a contemplative gift that enabled him to have the depth of wisdom to know when things were wrong and why they are wrong. So, that long before you had a lot of books written about interreligious dialogue, he already had the wisdom to know that mission isn't a matter of going out and converting everybody. He had the wisdom to know that it is a matter of genuinely sharing religious experience – convergence of religious faith traditions – but in service of what God wants for God's creation and for human beings in particular. God is saying: ‘I have come that they may be one human family’. This never has happened. It has never yet happened all the time that we are on this earth. The wars – killing each other, or wanting to lord it over each other, or enslaving each other – but refusing to accept that we are all flesh and blood, the same people and loving each other as such. Bishop Benny had that so clearly in his head. But you see, if you have that vision and that's your horizon – that everything is 13.7 billion years in the making and we are all a part of one reality; and if you want to be life-giving for the planet and if you want to be part of God's Creation in the way God intended us to be – then your horizon has to embrace everything

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Rex: If Bishop Tudtud was here with us now, how do you think he would he want us to bring our Philippine Church forward for the next 500 years?

What would he be saying at this moment? I think that all the themes that were precious to him and the vision he was living out in his ministry, his Christianity, was inclusive. It wasn’t about rivalry. It wasn't about getting people into the church. It was about being present to the lives of everybody else; even though you might not be very deeply aware of the deep meanings of their faith tradition and where they're coming from and so on. But you know that God was always there. And Bishop Benny would say that we would have to transcend the legacy of the historically understandable Spanish take on things and the harm that it did to any possible mutually enriching future for the peoples in the Philippines – because once you set up this enmity and this completely negative image of people, you’ve destroyed all prospect of a harmonious future.

Bishop Benny’s message for us is that we would have to precisely be what God wants us to be as Christians and our faith would need to have meaning for the life of the world. We would have to, not just overcome, but reverse that moment in our history and in our understanding of our own faith and come to realize that we've been challenged to do something much more for the life of the world.

 

We are being challenged (by our faith) to do much, much more than simply saving our own soul. No. The task that we were born for as spelled out in our baptism is: ‘Do you know who you are?’ You are someone who has been given one glorious chance to live and die into and for your world. So, if we could get that right then we might be encouraged to be for the world and for history what God wants us to be.  And so, I would say that that’s the agenda for the next 500 years!