It was a Saturday afternoon and the church was empty except for a small crowd gathered around the baptismal font. There were about twenty people holding up lighted candles surrounding the infant garbed in white, while the rest of what I assumed were the family and friends of the infant were seated in nearby pews.
“Who are all those people?” my husband asked, referring to those holding up the lighted candles.
“The godparents,” I replied.
“Eh? How many babies are being baptized?” he asked.
“What? That’s crazy. There must be twenty people up there! Who gets the child should the parents die?”
“Um… none of them?”
One of the upsides of being married to a non-Filipino is having my attention drawn to things that I take for granted. The church has its own explanation on the qualifications and roles of godparents but my simple understanding is that godparents are people especially chosen by the parents for their virtues or exemplary qualities to guide the child in wisdom and faith. In theory, that is. In practice though, it seems that the main considerations in choosing godparents are the prestige of having prominent personalities figure in the baptism (politicians and celebrities are particularly popular) and the expectation of an expensive gift (or gifts since godparents are expected to remember their godchildren on their birthdays and at Christmas time). The more the merrier. Husband was appalled that articles such as this made the front page of a major daily in the Philippines (to which my cousin replied: “I can’t see how it’s appalling. Perhaps I’m used seeing articles like this?”). The first paragraph reads:
Here’s a tip to children coming from no less than a Roman Catholic priest: Don’t grouse if you failed to see your godparents on Christmas Day to ask them for gifts. You still have until New Year’s Day to hunt them down.
Not sure which is more appalling, the very content of the article or that this is actually considered “news”.
When I was still pregnant with our son, my husband and I talked about who we want for his godparents. What struck me was that for my husband, godparents are people you would entrust your child to in case both parents die. It is a pretty heavy responsibility. For each person/couple that we considered, he asked me, “Can you see yourself leaving our son with so-and-so?” He was surprised that this was not the notion behind godparenting in the Philippines. I suppose because the extended family is pretty close in the Philippines, some relative or other usually takes the child/ren in when the parents die suddenly. It is also said in the Philippines that one shouldn’t refuse the request to stand as a godparent – it’s unlucky to do so. But if there is such a solemn responsibility attached to godparenting, it isn’t something that one takes lightly or agree to immediately. It also doesn’t make sense to have more than one set of godparents.
I like how my husband saw his godparents as a child, “They are adults other than my parents whom I could talk to and seek guidance from. But more than that, these are people that my parents specifically selected for me, and for this reason they are special to me. We can’t choose family members and relatives, but these people have been chosen just for me, and they have pledged to take care of me should I lose my parents.”
I know that the Catholic Church requires that the godparents be Catholics (i.e. baptized, confirmed, etc. It’s interesting to read the list of things that would disqualify someone from being a godparent, 19 in all.) but my husband and I both agree that religion is not as important as picking people who share our values and whom we know we could trust with the most precious people in our life.
We spoke to two of our good friends and asked if they were willing to be godparents to our son. They were surprised. And honored. But they also had a lot of questions about what it means to be godparents since neither of them have been godparents to anyone and they were of different religions. They asked if we could give them time to think about it before giving us an answer, and my husband and I felt that they understood what it meant for us. I found it extremely refreshing to have the task of godparenting taken so seriously. Weeks passed before we heard from them. It was a yes. We knew we couldn’t have asked for better godparents for our son.