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Philippines: A revolutionary church

Mariefe Ibarra Revollido. Photo provided by Mariefe

I am Mariefe Ibarra Revollido, married, with three children and 2 grandchildren. Presently residing at ACTS, Nancamaliran West, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, Philippines. Currently, a faculty member, handling courses on Feminist Theology, Mission and Evangelism, Religion, and New Testament Studies, and at the same time the women seminarians’ coordinator of Aglipay Central Theological Seminary (ACTS) and a member of the Committee on Liturgy and Music of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI). Also, a member of the Association of Women Theologians (AWIT), Philippines, and the women’s movement GABRIELA. An advocate of women’s rights and a feminist theologian as well.

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente is known to be a church for the poor and marginalized. A revolutionary Church that claims as the only living tangible result of the 1896 Philippine Revolution. Her courageous and nationalist forebears pave the way for the establishment of this Filipino Independent Church. Those martyred leaders, including women who have fought a long side with the men, of this church have shown characters of patriotism, commitment, and courage that are worthy of praise and be emulated by her members. The historical roots and journey of the IFI are a journey of faith, hope, love, and courage. The forebears of the IFI, the likes of Bishop Alberto Ramento, Fr. William Tadena, and others who fearlessly confronted and fought for social justice and equality in our society, are people of courage whom this church continues to remember and seen as instruments of gallantry and deep love for the church and country. The IFI is now in the 119th year of its founding and continues to be a revolutionary and liberating church, an advocate of human rights, spiritual integrity, and resilience amidst the threat and red-tagging of her priests and missionaries. The church remains to be strong and courageous in its mission and ministry, Pro Deo et Patria (For God and Country). This is one of the characteristics of this church that must not be forgotten and lived out in all its undertakings and mission amidst struggles and present-day challenges. Its nationalism/love of the country must always be its signpost for its members to practice and emulate.

The IFI is also an ecumenical and inclusive church, a church that appreciates, acknowledges, and celebrates all its members: men, women, children, widows, and LGBTQI++. The church’s character and missionary drive to be an all-embracing church are one of the church’s strengths and mark of a dynamic and liberating church. Most of the church members accept and openly celebrate this and are willing to continue this path of an all-embracing character and attitude. And to mention that women, either ordained or lay, are actively present in the life and ministry of the Church.

Though the IFI is a church for independence, liberty, and social justice it also needs to see some of the underlying issues that seemed to be put on the sideline in its life and ministry. There are still some ordained and lay members of the church that are not one hundred percent at ease/convinced with women clergy and women taking up leadership positions in the church. Despite the church’s advocacy and openness, some still find it not conclusive enough to truly feel and experience total equality and appreciation of the women sector: women clergy, laywomen, and women in the academe. Though the Church has programs and initiatives pertaining to women’s role and significance, I think the church needs to have the courage and initiative to re-reading women’s bold contributions to the Church’s life. In this area I believe the church must do more, that is, giving more leadership roles for women, either in ministerial leadership or in lay ministerial and theological education, in church committees and commissions. This is to encourage the Church to continue educating the ordained and lay members of the priestly vocation of women and in the episcopate ministry. Putting into perspective the issue of sexuality and femininity that is not defined by women’s sensitivity and vulnerability and that must be seen that success and the achievement of women’s goals depend on their being independent and invulnerable.

As a woman member of the Church and a part of the academe, as I am a lecturer at ACTS and a women’s rights advocate, I encourage the Church’s leadership to review and critically evaluate the valuable contributions of the women in the IFI. For I believe that women have been, and others are still conditioned with the traditional feminine values that women should live accordingly – conformity, passivity, and surrender of self, for they feel powerless to transform their lives and lose their sense of worth. Women are repeatedly placed in a position of conflict through mixed messages they receive in their lives. We repeatedly hear of the desirability of adopting to the princess’ role in our lives, characterized by powerlessness and dependency. The fact is that strength and courage are predominantly thought of as a quality that carries with it the association of being masculine, while vulnerability is generally deemed a feminine quality. Courage and strength are also used as a weapon against vulnerability, women must look within themselves that they have the capacity to be courageous, to be strong but equally capable of being deeply vulnerable. There is a need to be courageous and strong, but I do not mean the kind of courage or strength associated with overpowering others or even aspects of oneself, which is how courage and strength are generally defined. Women need the courage and strength that is born of inner connection and empowerment.

It is my yearning and fervent hope that the church should do away with or re-read the Cinderella myth which for now has assumed new meaning with new expectations for women as our culture changes. The IFI must continue to propagate the significant role and contributions of women in the growth and mission of the church to be truly an inclusive church for women’s rights and integrity.  To courageously give support in their journey of attaining true equality and relevance in the life of the church. Jesus has given women of their rightful place during his life and ministry, and the church must continue to do so, lest we forget. The liberated woman is expected to pursue a career and expected to handle serenely both a career, motherhood, and as clergy and Bishop of the church. For to be strong and courageous is to be powerful, but at the same time to be effective and energetic, and persistent. Women and the church must fully realize that courageously fighting and struggling for recognition, dignity, and integrity do not lie in the images, characteristics, or limitations by which we define them, but that problem is the belief in them. Let us not forget that we are all created in the image of God and that all are equal in his reigndom. May the God of justice and love continue to inspire us toward shalom and equality.

Thank you for this opportunity to share. God bless!

Mariefe I. Revollido
ACTS Lecturer