MANILA, Philippines - Women who want to be a nun should try having a boyfriend first. The surprising advice is not from some liberal activist, but from a Benedictine nun, Sr. Mary John Mananzan.
Mananzan, the head of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), said having a romantic relationship with a man is one way of helping a woman find out if she is really meant to spend a life of meditation, embracing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
''I tell them go have a boyfriend or if they have a suitor, I tell them entertain him,'' she told reporters in an interview during a gathering in Manila.
''I don't mind if they'll have a boyfriend; at least they have a choice so that when they're inside (a convent) they won't be tempted anymore,'' the 74 year-old nun said.
Mananzan also counseled young women to try working first.
''If they are only 22 years old, we tell them to work first for them to experience it so that they won't regret it later,'' she said.
Mananzan admitted that the number of women joining a religious order has declined over the years.
''If you will compare it to the 1950s it's not so much anymore, but we have yet to experience a crisis unlike in America and Europe where convents are closing down. We still have enough personnel. We even send missionaries all over the world,'' said Mananzan.
The Benedictine nun attributed the decline mainly to the secularization of the society.
''There's a lot of secularization and women have more opportunities now to serve the poor unlike before that you have enter the convent to do that,'' Mananzan said.
''To be celibate is a special vocation. If you want to help the poor you can do that without having the vow of celibacy. To have the vow of celibacy is something very special that's why I don't believe that everybody is called for that,'' she added.
But, Mananzan said, the degree of secularization in the Philippines is not so much unlike in other countries.
''There's a difference in the degree of secularization. In Europe, they don't go to church anymore unlike here our churches are full with people. The people are still very religious and families are more or less still intact,'' she said.
Mananzan said there are still more nuns than are priests in the Philippines.
''I think we are about 10,000...there are more nuns than priests,'' she said.
In 2004, then Imus Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle disclosed that there is a shortage of priests in the Philippines and at least 25,000 are needed to serve some 68 million Filipino Catholics.
Tagle, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' Episcopal commission on doctrine of faith, said the 8,700 priests nationwide are overworked since the ideal ratio should be one priest for at least 2,000 parishioners.
That time, he said, the country has only one priest serving 15,000 Catholics.
Mananzan then invited the youth to consider entering the religious life.
''To the youth, if you want a meaningful life, this is a very meaningful life. I could say that because I'm a nun for more than 55 years and I'm not regretting it at all,'' she said.