THE HAGUE - Imagine churches converted into a housing complex, restaurants, schools or just closed forever.
The practice of religion is declining here. According to a 2016 survey called "God in Nederland" (God in the Netherlands), a study updated by the government every 10 years, more than 67 percent of the Dutch said they do not have a religion.
It found that faith in God has continued to disappear from the Dutch society. Currently, the Netherlands is the 4th most unreligious country in Europe.
The Netherlands is no longer a Christian nation. Church attendance has fallen dramatically and the belief in a personal God has fallen sharply, the research concluded.
For many Filipinos, other Christian immigrants and the remaining Dutch faithful, this scenario is quite confronting.
Pastor Jan Eijken, a member of the Pastoral Council who is in charge of immigrant communities at the Maria Sterre Parish in The Hague, said the decline of faith among the Dutch started not long ago.
“I think it has to do with emancipation. It has to do with a growing conscious autonomy. Especially after the 2nd World War, society changed a lot. Before that 2nd World War, the Church, not only the Catholic Church but also Protestant Church had a lot of power in society… We had also in our society emancipation about sexuality. I think the doctrine of the Catholic Church was very moralist on that point and people want to free themselves from this,” he said.
The following of the Catholic Church, besieged recently with scandals, have suffered a decline in the West. It has been criticized for covering up scandals such as sexual abuse by priests, contributing to loss of faith.
“There was also a lot of abuse of power. That is discussed a lot now in society, for instance sexual abuse… People who are working close with us they trust us so they don’t go away, but people who are at a certain distance they say 'ah I don’t want any more to go to the Church because they have a very bad reputation.' That is the problem we have to cope [with] these days and that is very painful. I think it will endure a long time,” said Eijken.
But all is not lost. Christian migrants, among them Filipinos, may just be the future of the country’s faith.
Every Saturday and Sunday, churches are filled with Christian migrants and their families professing their faith. The remaining Dutch faithful who continue to flock churches are visibly an ageing group. Young people no longer see religion playing a role in their lives.
The Filipino Christian communities in the Netherlands are among the groups promoting religion and keeping the faith alive.
“I think the migrants, especially when they are in a weak position in the society, they are looking for some security. I think the faith is the strength to survive in insecure times, in insecure circumstances. Therefore, for a lot of migrants, can be Muslims, can be Christians, can be Hindus, can be Buddhists but the faith is for them very important,” added the pastor.
Filipino missionaries are coming to the West to engage migrant communities as well as Europeans.
Fr. Gilbert Razon and Fr. Sedfrey Nebres are two of the Filipino priests who do their mission outside the Philippines.
They said the church gives a sense of security and community to migrants.
“Filipinos are innately religious. May ano tayo eh, sabi pa nga nila, sakop mentality ang mga Filipinos (We have, as they say, colonial mentality). So the communitarian aspect of the Church really speaks well to Filipino society. Hindi katulad dito na individualistic na. So talagang hindi magmi-make sense iyong pagiging church (Unlike here where society is individualistic. So being part of a church community really won't make sense),” said Nebres.
In the past, European missionaries were evangelizing Africa, Asia and Latin America. For the Philippines, Christianity came through the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
This time, it seems evangelization is taking the reverse track: priests from the so-called Global South are coming to the West, especially Western Europe, to do mission work.
Under the SVD congregation that was founded in Germany, Razon was first assigned in Argentina before coming to The Netherlands, while Nebres was sent directly here. He is currently on his last year and will go back to the Philippines.
FUTURE OF CHRISTIANITY
The two priests see Filipinos and other migrant communities as having a special role in keeping Christianity alive. Filipinos are naturally religious and brings with them their faith wherever they go.
“Ang maganda dito ang mga Filipino groups ay maliliit na communities so mas intimate, people know each other. Unlike sa atin na anonymous lahat. Everyone goes, everyone leaves,” said Nebres, adding that the Church has because in a true sense of the word—a community.
(What's good here is that Filipino groups are small communities so it's more intimate, people know each other. Unlike back home where everyone's anonymous. Everyone goes, everyone leaves.)
This strengthens more the faith of Filipino migrants.
Filipinos are not only influencing their fellow communities but also the Dutch society.
“Ang maganda nga doon kasi ang mga Pinoy nag-aasawa ng mga Dutch. Actually, 'pag ang Pinay nagsimba, dala-dala iyang buong pamilya. Dala-dala ang asawa, dala ang mga anak. So nari-reach out din ang mga mga Dutch,” narrated Fr. Razon.
(The good thing is, Filipinos marry the Dutch. Actually, when the Filipina comes to church, she brings her whole family. She brings her husband, her children. So the church reaches even the Dutch.)
Still, there are challenges. Not all Filipinos in The Netherlands would remain faithful. Liberal ideas and emancipation are playing a role in an immigrant’s life.
For Couples for Christ (CFC), a worldwide organization of Catholic families, it is a real challenge to keep the faith in a society where religion no longer plays a big role.
“We had read that realization. We were worried how can we grow here in the Netherlands? What is the solution so that the Catholics, the faithful will not go down or go away? We are bringing our children to the Church. We’re telling them to love the mass, to enjoy the mass. We talk about Jesus to them. And for the kids we have this Youth for Christ,” said Junfer dela Cruz, country head of CFC in The Netherlands.
Dela Cruz said sharing faith with one another can be done not just by going to church. The CFC as a community of families has ministries for the youth, the unmarried, and kids and other members of the family.
He believes that Filipinos are transforming the faith in Europe.
“Christianity started here where almost everyone was Catholic and it is going down. For us who are the remaining Catholics in Asia, when we come here, we start to plant the seed…we share our values, we share our faith and we start to grow,” he said.