Bonded by culture
Filipino Catholics find community in a shared heritage.
What is it like to be Catholic and Filipino?
At Christmas time, it means celebrating Simbang Gabi at churches around the diocese and making star-shaped parols, or paper lanterns, with your children. During September, it means honoring the feast day of the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. And for the rest of the year, it means dedicating yourself to spiritual growth and service locally and in the Philippines, thanks to local organizations like the Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia and the St. Charles Borromeo Philippine Medical Mission.
The Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia was founded in 2000 after a diocesan meeting where various cultural groups were brought together to discuss their hopes and goals for the local church.
The ministry coordinator is Ed Tiong, a parishioner of Corpus Christi Mission in South Riding. According to its website, the goal is “to exist as a resource ministry with lay volunteers and clergy, who are all ready and willing to help build a parish-based Filipino Ministry in the hopes of promoting and preserving the faith and traditions of the Filipino people. In the process, we hope to bring the Good News of the Gospel to each individual or family through the process of inculturation and evangelization.”
The Filipino ministry celebrates Mass the third Sunday of every month at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. They also hold events and retreats for men, women, young adults and youths at parishes around the diocese. In the spring, they participate in the Asians for Mary Pilgrimage at the Basillica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Their biggest event is the Simbang Gabi novena, special Masses that take place every year during the nine days leading up to Christmas. Last year, the event was spread out between 13 churches around the diocese, with Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde celebrating Mass on the final day. In Arlington, St. Charles Borromeo Church held its own Simbang Gabi celebration, with early morning Masses each of the nine days.
The annual celebration for the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz takes place the last Saturday of September. Now in its fourth year, the celebration includes a reception with traditional food and exhibits of Filipino history and crafts.
This year, many local Filipino Catholics will travel to Rome to watch the canonization Oct. 21of a second Filipino saint, the teenage martyr Pedro Calungsod.
Ed Medina, a parishioner of St. Timothy Church in Chantilly, came to the United States from the Philippines in 1972 and has been involved with the Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia for nearly 10 years. He believes the ministry is important because it connects Filipino Catholics with the cultural traditions of their ancestors.
“I think the Filipinos here, they like to feel at home too,” Medina said. “We are all, to start with, very religious in the Philippines, but some of them are really reluctant to come to church here because you’re not only going to see Filipinos. That’s the reason I became involved, so I can bring Filipinos in to help them feel at home.”
Pastor Mario has been involved in the Filipino ministry for the past seven years. He believes the ministry is a way for local Filipino Catholics to show solidarity.
“The Philippines are the largest Catholic country in Asia,” he said. “We would like to gather ourselves together to show that we are a Catholic community with a common goal of celebrating our own culture.”
According to Mario, communities in the Philippines often have their own patron saints. Filipino Catholics who come to the United States often remain devoted to those saints. His family, for example, often celebrates the feast of St. Martha with a group of Filipino Catholics in Virginia Beach. Similar celebrations take place in New York, New Jersey, San Francisco and Chicago, he said. The celebrations usually consist of Mass, music, dancing and traditional food.
“It’s a way to say, ‘Look at how we celebrate,’” Mario said. “It’s not as big yet, but at least it’s starting to grow. We’ve been doing this in Virginia Beach for the past seven years now.”
Another person highly involved in the local Filipino community is St. Charles parishioner Joe Perez, who came to the United States from the Philippines in 1986. In addition to his work with the Filipino ministry, Perez participates in an Ambassadors of Mary organization and a Divine Mercy group founded by the late Vincentian Sister of Charity Sister Paulette Honeygosky. He believes Filipino Catholics are deeply devoted to the faith, thanks to a long tradition of prayer through periods of struggle.
“We were taught by missionaries that our way of salvation is to pray, pray, pray,” Perez said. “It was taught to us by our parents and our grandparents and so with that culture, the Filipinos are very close to God, and we always pray for everything.”
For several years, Perez worked as the bookkeeper for the St. Charles Borromeo Philippine Medical Mission. The medical mission was founded in 1999 as a parish outreach project and has since become a registered nonprofit. The president of the organization is St. Charles parishioner Vanette Lagera, who came to the United States from the Philippines in 1996.
“The official mission is to promote the inherent right of the poor and underprivileged in the Philippines to receive basic health care and to empower them through education to become responsible members of society,” Lagera said.
Every year, the mission holds a Barrio Fiesta fundraiser in June, with Filipino dancers and singers, contests, costumes and traditional food. The proceeds from the event are split between five organizations in the country: Childhope Asia Philippines, which helps street children in poor countries; the Foundation of Our Lady of Peace, a hospital for the poor in Manilla; the Religious of Notre Dame of the Missions, which works with indigenous people in the mountains; Anawim, a home for the abandoned elderly; and the Archbishop Gabriel M. Reyes Memorial Foundation, which provides developmental assistance for poor children.
In the case of natural disasters in the Philippines, like August’s serious flooding, the mission will collect more funds.
Lagera said she became involved with the medical mission as a way to give back.
“I wanted always to do things that would give back to the community. I have a happy life, and you just want to share,” she said. “And I know what it looks like — the poverty in the Philippines. When you know about people who are very poor, it’s compelling and you really want to help out. I’ve been here 16 years in the states and I feel very American, but I don’t forget where I am from.”