I was in my Grade 4 or 5 class when the teaching of catechism was introduced to students of Mabalacat Elementary School. I remember they were held once a week, on Fridays, right after our regular classes. I would often fret whenever Fridays came, as it meant staying for another hour in the classroom, to be drilled by our catechism teacher—actually, a uniformed high school student from nearby Mabalacat Institute with religious medals on her lapel—about prayers, the Sacraments and lessons from the Bible. Since I already had a couple of children’s religious books, the smart-aleck in me thought that I was already familiar with her catechism material.
I distinctly recall our catechism teacher starting her lecture with a question: “What was the sin of Adam and Eve that caused them to be driven from Eden?”. Of course, I knew the answer—I raised my hand and answered with confidence: “They ate the forbidden fruit—the apple!”. To my shock, the teacher replied that I was wrong. “Pride!”, she said, “it was pride that caused their downfall. And it’s one of the 7 Deadly Sins”. Cowed by embarrassment, I silently took my seat. In the Fridays that followed, I listened more intently, and soon, I was taking my catechism lessons more seriously.
For many Filipino children living in the colonial times, the teaching of the basic tenets of Christianity began early, using the caton, a primer on the alphabet, common prayers and religious doctrines. Catons were loosely based on Doctrina Cristiana, the first book published in the Philippines by the Imprenta de los Dominicanos de Manila and approved as a catechetical guide during the 1782 Manila Synod, under Bishop Domingo de Salazar. Catons published in different Philippine dialects, including Kapampangan.
The establishment of a formal system of education paved the way for the inclusion of catechism instruction in schools, particularly those founded by religious groups. The laity, encouraged and supported by their priests and parishes, took on the teaching of catechism in community schools as their apostolate, becoming an important force in the Church, especially from the 1930s through the post-war years.
This led to the publishing of catechism manuals, and one in Kapampangan, “Ing Canacung Catecismo”, was printed in 1938, a translation of an existing English version, “My Catechism”, by Rev. Fr. Vicente M. de la Cruz. The aims of the catechism books was outlined on the preface: “..macapariquil ya caring aduang tapuc a anac: muna, caretang arapat dane ing Mumunang Pamaquinabang iñang anac lapa, banrang ñgeni isundu at ganapanan ing pamagaral da qñg religion; at cadua, caretang aliua, bistat maragul nala, ditac lapa cabaluan qñg casalpantayanan, balang magsadia qñg carelang Mumunang Pamaquinabang” (the book is meant first, for children who have received their First Communion, so that they can continue their study of religion; and second, older ones who grew up knowing little knowledge of their faith, so they can be prepared for their First Communion).
Catechism instruction manuals followed the same structure—starting with a chapter-by-chapter presentation of the basic teachings (“Ing Dios, Miglalang Ampon Guinu”, “Ding Atlung Personas Qñg Dios, Ing Tanda ning Cruz”/ God, Our Lord and Creator, The Three Persons in God/ The Sign of the Cross, etc.), followed by a series of drill questions, with matching answers ( Q. Nanung pengacu ning Dios daptan, banacatang panuanan carin banua? A. Ing Dios peñgacu neng itubud quecatamu ing metung a Mañaclung / Q. What did God promise to do, so we can enter Heaven? A. God promised to send a Savior).
The teaching of religion as a separate subject was a requisite in the curriculum of every Christian school. To stress the importance, “Best in Religion” awards were given and held as much weight as a “Best in English” and “Best in Math” awards. Despite my assiduous studies, I never got that medal. But I did get to master my prayers: Ibpa Mi, Ing Bapu Maria, Ligaya King Ibpa, Bapu Reyna as well as recite the Rosary with its misterios, Apulung Utus ning Dios and Pitong Sakramento. In the end, by taking to heart the teachings of the Catholic Church, I was one step closer to Heaven, and in the mind of a 10 year old boy, I felt that was the better reward.