Fr. Rafael Dela Cruz Jr, SDB, SThD talks about Theo-Dula, the theological framework he developed, before an audience composed of DBCS Professors and students of Theology. He also gave out free copies of his book The Theo-Dula of the Salubong to the participants.

Ex Corde 2017 Talk 1

In the Philippines, the richness and appeal of popular religiosity or folk Catholicism is evident in the millions of devotees who flock together for the “Traslacion” of the Black Nazarene, the dancing pilgrims who honor Pit Senyor at the Sinulog, the multiple altars set up across the archipelago for Pabasa during Holy Week, the flowers offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the month of May, and many others. Since it involves the people’s creativity and interpretation, popular religiosity is an “expression of genuine inculturation.” At the same time, however, it can also be prone to error, and needing education and purification. But this fact need not take away from its value. After all, like official Church prayer, popular religiosity speaks of the same faith though it uses a different kind of language.

“In this age of New Evangelization, the different forms of popular religiosity can be tapped and used to evangelize,” says Systematic Theology Professor Fr. Rafael Dela Cruz Jr, SDB, SThD. Citing Evangelii Gaudium, Fr. Dela Cruz explains that “popular religiosity, indeed, has an active evangelizing power.” While it is not presented using theological expressions, it is certainly not lacking in content which is expressed through other means that can move the heart and the soul, including music, aesthetics, drama, dance, etc. “It is also referred to as popular spirituality.”

As a theologian, Fr. Dela Cruz has committed himself to tap people’s expressions of faith in the various forms of popular piety as “expressions of true faith.”

Speaking on “Popular Religiosity, Drama and Theology: A Theological and Pastoral Proposal” in the Ex Corde Lecture Series last September 28, Fr. Dela Cruz, who is also DBCS President and Dean, presented the theological framework he developed to draw the faith content from popular religious celebrations.

Using dramatic theories and categories, Fr. Dela Cruz built on Hans Urs von Balthazar’s Theo-drama, which “focuses on the inner life of the Trinity entering the drama of human existence,” and his mentor and friend Alejandro Garcia-Rivera’s Theodramatics, which focuses on the “human side… human suffering and the struggle to find one’s role in God’s saving drama.” The result is the Theo-Dula that Fr. Dela Cruz proposes as a theological approach to expressions of popular religion.

It is a proposal, he explains, because we are still verifying the efficacy and fecundity of this method of theologizing.

Screen grab of Fr. Dela Cruz’s blog on Popular Religiosity and Theo-Dula.

He began approaching popular religiosity theologically using the Theo-Dula when he made his doctoral dissertation, choosing as specimen the Salubong, which Fr. Dela Cruz describes as “a popular religious drama portraying the doleful encounter between Jesus and Mary before the crucifixion and their joyful meeting on Easter morn.”

Fr. Dela Cruz explains that “as a theological framework, the Theo-Dula is concerned with the Drama of salvation unfolding on the world stage.” This Drama is the Work of the Trinity: the Father is the Author, the Son is the Actor, and the Spirit, though not seen on the stage is present as the Director, “and we are invited to listen to His promptings in real life.”

“This Drama revolves around the life and mission of Jesus Christ as the dramatic center. And at the heart of the Theo-Dula is God’s Primal Dula, or the dramatic inner life of the Trinity, characterized by agape (self-giving love) and kenosis (self emptying).” The Christ drama makes present on the world stage God’s Primal Dula so that our human drama may be led back into and play in God’s drama of salvation. Thus, through Christ, we have access: our stories can connect with Christ’s and also with God’s Primal Dula.

In the Salubong, the drama takes place on the stage of the streets. This drama re-enacts the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ: In the Pre-Easter Salubong celebrated in Paete, Rizal, Jesus meets His Mother, then He meets Veronica, and then the two women meet each other in the end; in the Easter Salubong, Christ appears to his Mother after His resurrection. Fr. Dela Cruz notes that even the choice of the time of the day during which these two forms of Salubong are celebrated adds to the drama. The Pre-Easter Salubong begins around twilight until the early evening. The darkness and the doleful lament of music speak of death. On the other hand, the Easter Salubong is held at sunrise, and the joy and the light of a new day speak of Easter.

“The drama (of the Salubong) mirrors our human dramas in real-life. It unites and reveals life as it is. We bring with us our own panata, our own experiences to the drama, and we are all united.” The Christ-Dula unites our individual stories to His and also to the Primal Dula (unitive) and at the same time it is a window that reveals to us the very life of God (revelatory). Thus the “Christ-Dula is the Christian dramatic horizon – it reveals and makes present the Primal Dula on the world stage so that the human dula may play in God’s drama.”

Fr. Dela Cruz explains that there is a common theme on the stage, before the stage, and behind the stage: Mission. The Mission of Christ is to save us. And we can also share in this one mission, by discovering and fulfilling our role in it. “How did Jesus play his own mission? How do I do my part?” Jesus’ thus becomes the standard by which we are measured.

“In my effort to fulfill my role as a theologian — trying my best to contribute to theology in the Philippines, and my role as a Salesian — contributing to the good of the youth and our students of theology, am I doing my role like Christ?” says Fr. Dela Cruz. Christ’s self-giving and self-emptying love becomes the standard by which we are judged and measured. “We are challenged by Christ!”

And since we are sinners, Fr. Dela Cruz explains that we can swerve from the right path when we fail to unite our drama to Christ’s and we fall short in living up to the challenge of loving like He does. When this happens, our life can be compared to a tragedy or a comedy. If it is a comedy, which in Drama involves mistaken identity, then our life lacks authenticity; we say one thing but do another thing. If it is a tragedy, it concludes with a negative note.

Fr. Dela Cruz continues to develop and apply the Theo-Dula, and encourages students of theology to use this theological framework in understanding other forms of popular religiosity just as Fr. Juvelan Samia, SDB accomplished successfully last academic year. He earned his MA in Theology with a thesis paper on the Alay Lakad, annual pilgrimage to Antipolo on Holy Thursday.

As a conclusion to his talk, Fr. Dela Cruz shared the pastoral framework offered by the Theo-Dula, which consists of four parts:

First, listen to the people’s stories. “Recognize and affirm the people’s need to express their deepest concerns and faith in popular religiosity. Listen and do not judge them to discover the deepest need people are bringing in their devotion.” Fr. Dela Cruz says that this is biblically grounded. In the Gospel of Luke, this is what Jesus first did when he encountered the two disciples going to Emmaus.

Second, tell the whole story of Jesus Christ. “God’s drama of salvation is revealed in the story of Jesus Christ in the scriptures and the tradition of the Church. Starting with the people’s deepest concerns, we then present Jesus and His whole story.” The story of Jesus reveals the story of God and unites the stories of the people.

Third, challenge Popular Faith toward a deeper Christian spirituality. “Lead the people’s faith to ever deepening ways of relating with Christ, with the Trinitarian God, and with their neighbor.” For example, challenge devotees of the yearly Pabasa during Holy Week to go to Mass especially on the holiest days of the liturgical year; challenge devotees to expand their prayer intentions, so they do not only present to God their personal needs but also that of others; and challenge people praying the block rosary to also pray and reflect on the Scriptures to enrich their faith journey.

And fourth, challenge Popular Faith toward a life of Christian Witness and Service (social and ecological challenge). “Lead the people’s faith to find concrete and authentic expressions of Christian witness and service.” Fr. Dela Cruz shares that in their last Alay Lakad pilgrimage, they noticed there were no trash cans. So after resting briefly from walking, Fr. Samia brought out a trash bag, and the pilgrims, without being told, collected their trash and disposed of them properly.

Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is the Research Coordinator and a guest professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.

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