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  • Catalino Arévalo, SJ1925–2023
  • Rachel Joyce Marie O. Sanchez

Catalino Arévalo, SJ, took his graduate degrees in theology at Weston College in the US (1951–1955) and at the Gregorian University in Rome (1959). His scholastic training, influenced by pre-Second Vatican Council theology, did not easily coincide with the developments brought about by the said council (1962–1965) and his succeeding experiences in the Philippines during his ministry. The interfacing of his educational background with a new context brought about a crisis in Arévalo, but he faced it with creativity and grace. He regarded pre-Second Vatical Council theology—which was more scholastic, abstract, and based on a priori concepts—as an “absolute system” and viewed that of the Second Vatical Council, an ecumenical assembly in which church leaders gathered to respond to the issues of modernity, as one that gave more importance to personalist perspectives and social concerns, one in which people’s experiences became more mainstream.

While remaining very conversant in scholastic discourse, Arévalo became an important proponent of theologizing from experience and seeking the actualization of faith. He dedicated his work as a theologian to contributing to the development of contextual theology in the Philippines and Asia, at a time [End Page 293] when liberation theology from Latin America was an emerging field (Evers 2011, 358–59; O’Malley 2015, 7–17; Landas 2011, 173–74).

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Arévalo met liberation theologians in Latin America in 1970 and brought insights he learned from there into the Philippines when he worked in the country. Beyond the Philippines, he made important theological contributions to the building of the Asian church, especially through the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), since it was formed in 1970 (Kroeger 2009, 143).

In 1997 Jaime Cardinal L. Sin, then archbishop of Manila, awarded Arévalo with the medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontiface (For the Church and for the Pope) and recognized him as “the Dean of All Filipino Theologians and the Godfather of Hundreds of Priests.” In 1998 the Ateneo de Manila University awarded Arévalo with the degree of doctor of humanities, honoris causa, and called him the “Father of Asian Theology” (ibid., 145; Torres 2023).

Arévalo (2011d, 32–33) understood theology as a willingness, “within the believing community, to engage in this task of ‘reflecting within faith’ and [End Page 294] to give some (at least inchoately systematic) expression to that reflection.” He believed that theology is challenging because it is to be done and not just talked about. The theologian, as part of the church, should engage in the church’s life and in society, and doing theology should entail transformative praxis in the context one is engaged in (Arévalo 1998, 95). Arévalo (ibid., 95–96) named his theology as a “theology of ‘acompañar,’ of ‘being with,’ of ‘walking with.’” It is a theology that starts where people are coming from and accompanies them in transformative ways so that history can be a pilgrimage toward the reign of God.

For Arévalo (ibid., 93), the Second Vatican Council was “the most meaningful, even the most earth-shaking” of all the events that occurred in Christian history during his time. The very first line of “Gaudium et Spes,” the pastoral constitution of the church from the Second Vatican Council (1965), states that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (and women) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Through this opening line of the document, the Church renews how it understands itself as a community of “followers of Christ” that seeks to more closely relate with the people of today and take their concerns as its own.

The Second Vatican Council redescribed the church’s relationship with the world. The church realized itself in the world by being part of the people’s history (Arévalo 1998, 94). It renewed its understanding of its mission in a way that goes beyond merely preaching in...