Filipino Catholics in Vancouver (at Business Mirror Philippines)


WE’RE easy to spot, like her this first Friday: In the throbbing warmth of the almost-empty cathedral after Mass, she puts on her winter coat, slings her purse on her arm, tugs down a bit the selvage edge of her veil to her brow so that it shields her eyes, and kneels in the middle aisle, that straight line to the now-exposed Blessed Sacrament at the altar of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary here in Vancouver.

Closing the pages of a novena from where she has read a prayer, she creeps on her knees, fingering her beads, and lips muttering more prayers. In my mind, as perhaps in hers, even as we’re swathed in winter slate-gray light pouring through stained glass windows, as I watch her—she’d later lie prostrate at the altar—we’re transported to Quiapo Church, the Shrine of the Nazarene.

In the hush, the clink of vigil candles being cleared of drippings and replaced with fresh ones rhythmically floats with silent prayers. An elderly Filipina, covered from head-to-toe with a bandanna, thickly layered with padded coats, and a long skirt barely showing her thick boots, finishes off the last row of candles right under the gaze of the Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Guadalupe images.

Earlier at Mass today, her readings in Southern singsong with that distinctive familiar accent, echoed in the cathedral’s vaulted ceiling. She has also assisted in the offertory, later cleaned and kept the purifiers and folded away the linens. A few more have remained, with bowed or nodding dark-haired heads like mine, some dyed blond or auburn, who count among the 70 percent of daily Mass-goers.

Though we’ve blended in our fervor with the French, Eastern Europeans, some Asians, English and Americans, still on Sundays and liturgical feasts, which the archbishop often celebrates, our presence reverberates; from the altar boys and a girl, lectors and the long line to communion, it’s us. In most parishes, we greet Mass-goers as ushers and sing in choirs, of course.

Like an exclusive club, some of us compose take-charge crews that include preparing the altar for Mass, arranging the flowers, watering plants in the grotto, cleaning altar crevices and polishing the brass candelabras. Filipinos also comprise the cathedral’s multiple Legion of Mary presidia. In my parish, a Filipina had been president of the Catholic Women’s League; another acts as coordinator of the Blessed Sacrament chapel adorers and a few, members of the parish council.

But not only do we go to Mass and serve in church, we have also carried on with our devotions from home. In an archdiocese where our kind of fervor is not really recognized, we’ve managed to find approval for them. The Guardian Angels Parish in the Westside, for one, holds Wednesday evening novenas for the Santo Niño; unfortunately, an Ati-Atihan celebration earlier this month endorsed since by Vancouver City Hall highlights only the ati revelers, with the Santo Niño thrown in only as an icon.

Here in our Southwest parish, Saint Anthony de Padua’s feast in June draws most Filipinos from neighboring cities to the novena Masses concluded by a procession around the block—the last Mass often overflows into the church’s basement, where devotees follow it on a giant screen. We then troop to partake of fiesta food, last year laid out in the parish school parking lot, half of which were pancit, lechon, puto, suman and pichi-pichi.

The same feast happens at Saint Patrick’s in the Eastside, when on the last day of the Virgen de Peñafrancia novena Masses in September, we sing the Our Father in Bicol, also join a procession around the block and a feast at the parish hall—laing, being the dish most sought after. This was the first church I’ve entered in Canada, when I joined fellow devotees of “Ina” on a 1997 pilgrimage to gain support then for the restoration of her shrine in Naga. Her image has since been ensconced on a side altar.

We do, indeed, live up to our being “Amada de Maria,” which was how Pope John Paul II called us in his second papal visit to Manila. In most churches, it’s us who often lead the praying of the rosary before and after Masses. As well, on first Saturdays, a random group, that includes an octogenarian, gathers at a meeting hall in Saint Mary’s Parish to pray a round each of 20 petitions with 100 Hail Marys or 2,000 in total, like an army barraging heaven for answers to gnawing needs and healing of ills.

Even as our prayers hum with undertones of pain in a life of exile with its sacrifices and loneliness–especially among caregivers, who compose a significant number–perhaps our grip on our beliefs and faith, which we often manifest as joy, spills over as a distinctive mark; apparently, it shines even in as faintly as walking briskly to Mass like this morning, when an elderly man sensing my obvious rush smiled at me at a red light, saying, “You’re off to the cathedral, aren’t you?”


Peregrine Notes, January 12, 2013, Business Mirror Philippines, Manila

In photo at top: The Holy Rosary Cathedral on a Friday noon Mass; at bottom: spires of the cathedral