An ecumenical prayer
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Philippine Star) - January 9, 2014 - 12:00am

A Senate study conducted sometime ago showed outstanding Filipino values. Ranking first and foremost of these values is our religiosity. We are a religious people. Faith in God is in our hearts and minds arguably more than in our Asian brothers'.  In this part of the globe, we, probably, have no equal in our spiritual fervor.

To prove this point, the preamble in our 1935 constitution spoke of Divine Providence. When the 1971 Constitutional Convention revised our fundamental law, it copied into preamble of the 1973 charter, the same Divine Providence, although, the 1986 Constitutional Commission believed it was more consonant with Filipino religiosity to use Almighty God.

We should not, however, confuse our religiosity with the constitutional provisions that insure the democratic principle of separation of church and state. Towards this end, our charter provides that the state, among other provisos, cannot support a religion. Interpreted realistically, it simply means that despite the dominant number of the followers of the Roman Catholic Church in our country, over all other religions, the state is not supposed to favor it over others or over irreligion.

Last year, if I recall correctly, the congressional representative of the youth sector took moves towards enforcing the constitutionally enshrined freedom of religion. He filed a bill that would disallow government buildings to dedicate portions therein for religious images.  Because even until today, the only known religious images are those of the Catholic Church, the bill ran smack against the sentiments of predominantly Catholic Filipinos. It was thus, a wise judgment call on the part of the legislator to withdraw such a legislative proposal. He also skirted the danger of religious confrontations in our land or on a more personal note, the animosity of Catholics.

An old case entitled Gerona vs Secretary of Education, somehow brought into focus religiosity and freedom of religion. The followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses challenged a department order of the Secretary of Education that prescribed compulsory flag ceremonies in all public schools as against their religious freedom. They argued that saluting to the Philippine flag violated their religious doctrines. Supreme Court, not without abundance of dissent, ruled otherwise saying that "considering the complete separation state in our system of government, the flag is utterly devoid of any religious significance. Saluting the flag consequently does not involve any religious ceremony".  Many years later, Ebralinag versus Division Superintendent, a case of Cebu origin however, reversed the Gerona ruling.

I remember these cases when I attended the flag raising ceremony at the Cebu City hall last Monday. As part of the ceremony, a doxology, woven in beautiful melody, was sung. It being canned, I surmise that it is always played every Monday morning. Praising Santo Nino, it was, of course, a prayer for us, Catholics. No other religion could embrace it.

When I went up the city hall, I noticed an altar before which I, by force of religious habit, bowed my head in reverence. In all honesty, it could only be an altar of the Catholic and certainly not that of any other religion.

I do not know the personnel composition of the city hall. Neither do I have any information on their individual religions. But, it is not entirely possible that a few of them may not be Catholic. There could be members of the Baptist church, Seventh Day Adventists, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Iglesia ni Kristo and other religions who do not have Santo Nino in their prayers or in their hymns. Yet, by force of administrative edicts, these city hall employees can be compelled to attend the flag ceremony, where the prayer is said.

City hall workers could easily memorize the prose in that prayer. Even those who are not Catholic can commit it to memory. But, I cannot disagree with them if they should refuse to say it.

The administration of His Honor, Cebu City Mayor Michael L. Rama, desires to do things together.  At such an early morning hour of Monday, he may start doing things together with his fellow city hall workers, if the prayer that is said in the flag ceremony is one that is truly ecumenical.

A SENATE ALMIGHTY GOD CATHOLIC CHURCH CATHOLIC FILIPINOS CEBU CITY CEBU CITY MAYOR MICHAEL L CITY CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION DIVINE PROVIDENCE RELIGIOUS SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
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