Remembering the Asian theologian of ‘bits and pieces’ – UCA News

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Filipino Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo brought his own method into conversation with other theologians in the Philippines…

Remembering the Asian theologian of 'bits and pieces'

Filipino Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, whom many consider as the ‘father of Asian theologizing,’ died at the age of 97 on Jan. 18. (Photo supplied)

By Father Daniel Franklin Pilario

Published: January 20, 2023 12:16 PM GMT

Filipino Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, whom many consider the “Father of Asian Theology,” died at the age of 97 on Jan. 18.  His funeral Mass is scheduled for Jan. 22 at Ateneo de Manila University’s Church of the Gesu.

The Jesuit brought his own method into conversation with other theologians in the Philippines, recalls Vincentian Father Daniel Franklin Pilario, a theology professor in the Philippines. In the following tribute, Father Pilario provides excerpts from a 2004 article he wrote on the theology of Father Arevalo:


Theologians need to have a concrete grasp of the country’s main political and economic movements, so as to act on them in the spirit of the Gospel. This intrinsic connection of theology with time and historical circumstance can be discerned in Filipino Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo’s theological method of “reading the signs of the times,” a term introduced by Vatican II.

Somewhere in his writings, Father Arevalo wrote: Ours is “a theology of bits and pieces gathered and scotch-taped together in hours of doing and suffering, in dialogue and confrontation, in reflection and prayer, in emptiness, in confusion and paralysis — in all the times and seasons of Qoheleth, it would seem — in struggle, sometimes in anguish and despair, sometimes with the shedding of real blood and tears.”

Founded on the authority of magisterial statements, the theology of the signs of the times is “a theology of the discernment of the action of God and the grace of God in history.” It tries to feel the pulse of ‘what is going on’ in history in order to discern ‘what is going forward’ in the aspirations of peoples.… In other words, this methodology challenges the theologian ‘to live as close to the people as possible as to be able to hear their heartbeat’ so that s/he can ‘walk with’ them and help point to their destination in their journey to the Kingdom.

I would like to highlight three positive characteristics of this approach: (a) its ad hoc theologizing; (b) its liberationist concerns; and (c) the centrality it accords the magisterium and its texts.

Ad hoc theologizing

First, theology as played in the midst of pressing needs and urgency, as it is in any other part of the Third World, can only be done in an ad hoc manner. It is not a theology of theological journals and academic conferences. It is a theology-on-the-spot. Its home is “the heat of the day and the dust of the road, the wayside inns of the evening, with the inevitable partialities of half-formed questions and unfinished discussions: a theology in via, of a people also on its way.”

In a way, theologians in the Third World are not just ‘interested’ in contextual theology; they are forced by circumstance to ‘do it,’ as Arevalo himself attests.

Called to speak in grassroots seminars and workshops, regional or diocesan discernment processes, or among religious communities and laity, theologians from the Two-Thirds world do theology, not with the publication of a magnum opus in mind. They do not wrestle with concepts and hair-splitting distinctions but with “real flesh and blood issues, with concrete policies and decisions which had to be worked out.”

This is exemplified in the life of Arevalo himself who has not only been a teacher of several bishops and hundreds of priests but also drafted numerous church documents and pastoral letters, written speeches, homilies, and statements, of bishops and cardinals, of Jesuit general and provincials, etc. If all these written pages are collected, by his estimate, it will amount to around 8000-9000 typewritten pages. Yet none of these, except for a few articles, are credited under his name.

This humble anonymity under which a theologian labors, but which is also due in part to the many persistent demands with which s/he has to cope (e.g., teaching, meetings, conferences, organizing, administration, etc.), mainly characterizes most of the Third World theologizing. Arevalo describes it as a kind of theology ‘done on our feet’ in order to help the Church (e.g., communities and leaders alike) ‘think her way through’ its ever-changing situations.

The provisional and transitory character of this theologizing shows itself in many titles of Arevalo’s articles which most often bear the title ‘notes,’ ‘prenotes’ or just ‘some thoughts’ on something. Such a life-witness of a theologian exemplifies the notion of theology done at the point of urgency and difficult circumstance.

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Remembering the Asian theologian of ‘bits and pieces’ – UCA News

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