Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Ben Agamata and Tony Concepcion carry statue of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. In back is Rex Baldridge.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Ben Agamata and Tony Concepcion carry statue of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. In back is Rex Baldridge.
More than 600 Filipino-American Catholics convened in Portland Sept. 25. They celebrated a national saint and energized themselves for service in the world.

During the annual Mass, meal and cultural festival hosted at St. Pius X Parish, the Filipinos remembered St. Lorenzo Ruiz, a 17th-century layman who was martyred as a missionary to Japan. St. Lorenzo, who said he would give thousands of lives for Christ, still inspires believers to live out the gospel in the world.

"The main goal of our Mass is to unite the Filipino community so we can give our best to the bigger community," said Medy Saqueton, an organizer of the day and member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie. "If you feel good about yourself and know your roots, you can give yourself better."

Saqueton says Filipinos bring the church and the world a strong sense of family and a lot of joy — important gifts in modern culture.  

"This Mass injects us with new energy," says organizer Pia De Leon, a member of St. Clare Parish in Portland. "It gives us a chance to see new leaders, ordinary people who have become leaders in their parishes, people who thought they would never be able to participate much in the life of the church. That is really building the community."

The Mass began with men bearing a statue of St. Lorenzo, followed by dozens of delegates carrying banners from their various parishes. Filipino choristers from around the city combined to form a large liturgical ensemble.  

The Filipinos showed great affection for Archbishop John Vlazny. They brought him gifts during the liturgy and were thrilled to be near him during a reception afterward.

The archbishop noted a welcome surge in Filipino men answering God's call to priesthood. When the annual St. Lorenzo Ruiz Masses began 15 years ago, there were no Filipino priests; now there are five priests and 11 seminarians.

During his homily, Archbishop Vlazny said St. Lorenzo's courage is "unexplainable in human terms." The saint was a common man who was ready for the uncommon challenge when it came, the archbishop explained.  
"We wonder how we ordinary folks can stand up," he told the large congregation, adding that it helps to be part of a faith community, which encourages us to say yes to God and serve.

"Some people say they don't need a church," the archbishop said. "It's a lot easier with good people around."

Filipinos are a major Catholic ethnic group in Oregon and have an influence on spirituality and faith practice. There are an estimated 12,000 Philippines natives in the Portland area, spread out in almost every Catholic parish.

Filipinos have no mono-culture. The nation includes 7,000 islands and about 700 dialects. Organizers say it's a small miracle that Oregon’s Filipino Catholics have reached unity so readily.

The community dedicated a shrine at the Grotto in 2008 and each December hosts Simbang Gabi, nine days of prayer before Christmas.

There are Filipino Catholic communities in Eugene, Roseburg, Medford and on the coast. Filipino Catholics statewide offer prayer and money to support Filipino seminarians at Mount Angel.

In the Philippines in the 17th century, St. Lorenzo Ruiz was falsely accused of a crime and sent off to Japan as punishment. He became a zealous Catholic missionary and lost his life for it.

When asked to renounce his faith, Ruiz said he would give many thousands of lives for the Lord. In September 1637, he was hung upside down and died of suffocation.
He was canonized in 1987 by Pope John Paul II.  He is recognized as the first Filipino saint and martyr.