TikTok may not have been in the Old Testament, but it serves as a record of capital indulgences: there’s seduction, materialism, food porn, and other manifestations of what conservatives see as corruption of the modern world.
But that doesn’t mean God isn’t there — or at least, this is what The Catholic Comedian Romar Chuca believes. He does God’s work on the platform, as well as Facebook and Instagram, using his brand of religious humor to shepherd his 600,000+ followers towards salvation.
His unlikely mashups of liturgical songs and pop hits — such as Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros’ “Papuri sa Diyos” and Ben&Ben’s “Sa Susunod na Habang Buhay” — earn millions of views.
References run the gamut from Western to Filipino pop. There’s Beyoncé in the mix. Taylor for the Swifties. Also present are Silent Sanctuary, Rivermaya, and Parokya ni Edgar. Or maybe you prefer Zack Tabudlo?
Comments also range from praise (“I'm not catholic [sic] pero napaka angas mo idol hahaha”) to reprimand (“naku brod. wag mong sirain Ang [sic] banal na kanta”).
But haters gonna hate.
He has joked onstage with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, and rubs elbows with clergymen and nuns. The Jesuit Communications Foundation recently published his book “Catholic Comedy Libruh,” a collection of jokes, reflections, and “theological insights.” The foreword was written by Gretchen Ho. The blurb declares: “hindi kailangan boring ang pagiging banal.”
Romar started The Catholic Comedian accounts while cloistered during the height of the pandemic. His content — which includes bloopers during Sunday mass — brought a sense of nostalgia to people while church doors were shut.
Chuca’s TikTok follower count reached 5,000 within the first seven days.
But the process of becoming The Catholic Comedian started much earlier: when he was born to God-fearing parents, baptized by a priest uncle, then raised with a traditional Filipino Catholic upbringing.
He deepened his faith at a Catholic school, the Ateneo de Manila University, where he studied from grade school until college. As part of the Dulaang Sibol, Romar was mentored by the much-celebrated Onofre Pagsanghan, from whom he learned to “find God in all things.”
Now a licensed teacher and an MBA holder, Romar also finds God in all kinds of work. His career history is a running list of roles, including big pharma sales representative, senior high school teacher, business consultant, management trainee for a T-shirt company, marketing officer at a steakhouse, and entrepreneur. Priest, however, is not one of them.
But it is his Catholic Comedian persona that gave him his ultimate break.
His popularity helps him land hosting gigs, and has elevated him to celebrity status in this niche. One time, during a parish event runthrough, a crowd of teenagers screamed his name while a boy group was rehearsing onstage. He was their bias, or their idol, as in K-pop fanspeak.
Religion and entertainment
On social media, entertaining content with religious references is a rarity. After all, discussing religion can be tricky, and people tend to shy away from the topic to avoid backlash.
Not too long ago, drag artist Pura Luka Vega drew attention with a viral “Ama Namin” performance, which they defended as an expression of their faith. They’ve been declared persona non grata in a number of areas and are now facing criminal charges.
Vega is about the same age as Romar. Both grew up at the height of Whoopi Goldberg’s popularity as habit-wearing lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier, who married nightclub acts with convent chorale in “Sister Act” (1992) to the dismay (but eventual acceptance) of Maggie Smith’s ultra-conservative killjoy character, Reverend Mother Superior.
Three decades later, many still prefer to reprise Maggie’s role in real life, attacking the modern Whoopis of the world.
On Facebook, where Romar openly talks about other social issues like homophobia, bashers (which he calls “naysayers”) are vicious. A few use the names of other Christian denominations, or religions, as derogatory terms.
“God’s salvation is for all,” Romar insists, but he understands where his critics are coming from. “They come from a place of pain.”
“God permeates and thrives in different cultures and subcultures. He meets us where we are.”
Romar further developed this maturity in Mindanao, where he became acquainted with scholars from the Bukidnon Lumad. In these encounters, he bore witness to their unique practice of the Catholic faith, which is interlaced with ethnic traditions and belief in other deities.
“Higit na higit pa si Lord sa mga sinusubukan nating unawain through our doctrines, through our principles, sa mga sinasabi ng mga naysayers na ‘ito lang dapat ang Catholic church,’” he said. “God permeates and thrives in different cultures and subcultures. He meets us where we are.”
This is why Romar fuses liturgical songs and pop music — Adam and Eve, meet Ben&Ben.
A few naysayers question his sincerity in producing religious content. They argue, “you are not a priest.” This is the notion he aims to dispel: that only the clergy can talk about faith. “Because I am a lay person,” he said, “I get to bridge the church and the non-churchgoers.”
“I’m using Ben&Ben to lead them back to God.”