Because of their ability to integrate smoothly into U.S. culture, the presence of Filipino Catholics is not so public. But 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.
Father Maro Escano, now serving at St. Mary Parish in Eugene, says the Filipino Catholic community keeps the spirituality of Filipinos intact — and perhaps enhances others.
“We are very devout Catholics,” says the priest. “The rosary is part of who we are as a people. Our culture is very much defined by our faith. Wherever we are, we take that with us.”
The Philippines are heavily influenced by the Catholic spirituality of colonial Spain, which ruled the islands for four centuries. That means Mary and the infant Jesus are key figures.
Filipinos really have no mono-culture. The nation includes 7,000 islands and about 700 dialects. It’s a small miracle that Oregon’s Filipino Catholics have reached unity so readily.
At Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, Filipinos organize the large annual Epiphany party.
Holy Trinity’s Filipinos take a turn running Faith Cafe, a feeding program for low-income people in the western suburbs of Portland.
In September, Holy Trinity hosts the feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia, a celebration that goes back to the 17th century in the Philippines. Traditionally, a statue of Mary is carried down river in a boat while worshipers pray the rosary.
In Beaverton, the feast includes a “living rosary,” with each bead represented by a child. Readers from different regions of the Philippines proclaim the readings in tribal languages.
Franz and Monette Mallari are organizers of the Penafrancia feast and they make sure it really is a feast, including salmon and dishes with names like “Bicol Express” and “Langkang may Gata.” While guests eat, youths perform song and dance — even hip-hop. Desserts fill two long tables. Filipino seminarians get the leftovers to take home.
In December, it’s time for Simbang Gabi, celebrated at Holy Trinity and St. Therese in Portland, among other locations. The nine days of prayer before Christmas sometimes start at dawn. Like the Mexican posadas, the liturgies and dramatize Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging.
“It was a heart-warming to see the twinkle in the eyes of our children, the youth and the young adults getting excited in doing their part each night,” say the Mallaris, who helped set up a Simbang Gabi last year at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Rainier.
In one tradition, parishioners write down their wishes and hopes and hang them on a tree.
Those who attended Simbang Gabi last year donated to a special collection used to build houses for the poor families in the Philippines.
“I am deeply impressed by their consistently positive outlook on life, their eagerness to be involved in parish life, and the fact that they are not cliquish,” says Father Dave Gutmann, pastor of Holy Trinity since 2007.
At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Salem, a monthly Mass includes Tagalog, one of the languages in the Philippines. The choir sings hymns in English and Tagalog. As always, there is a potluck after Mass with Filipino cuisine.
“We share our strong commitment to the Church and participate actively in Church life,” says Marie McHone, a Philippines native who coordinates the Mass.
Filipino-influenced Masses often include processions and presentation of flowers to Mary, plus commemoration of the Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. Each year in late September, Filipinos celebrate the feast of St. Lorenzo, a 17th-century Filipino who was sent to Japan and became an evangelizer and martyr.
The Filipino community in Salem hosted the “Lord’s Leaven Mission” this spring and provided training in the deepening evangelization of the Catholic faith.
At Our Lady of Sorrows in Southeast Portland, the Filipino community organizes dances and large devotional festivals that attract worshipers from all over the community.
On July 11, hundreds gathered for a Filipino-led Divine Mercy and Our Lady of Fatima crusade. An image of the Divine Mercy and a statue of the Fatima are hosted by families, mostly Filipinos and many come to pray.
In Milwaukie at Christ the King Parish, Filipinos organize a multi-cultural festival that gives everyone a voice.
There are Filipino Catholic communities in Eugene, Roseburg, Medford and on the coast. Filipino Catholics pour out prayer and money to support Filipino seminarians at Mount Angel. Angelo Te, a Filipino, was just ordained a deacon and says he is thankful for the support so many people gave.
At Mount Angel Seminary, Filipino seminarians from all sorts of dioceses have banded to offer their devotions. The seminarians organized a large Feast of the Santo Niño celebration in January and invited Catholics from all over the region.
Now, members of the community are pondering a shrine to Mary in southwest Washington.
Father Henry Rufo, 45, is the first Filipino to become a priest for the Archdiocese of Portland. His 2001 ordination was a major celebration for Filipino Catholics. He is now moderator for seven Filipino Catholic groups.
“The best attribute of the Filipino communty is that they are really family-centered,” says Father Rufo, who helped establish a Filipino Mass in Salem.
Caring for others — as modeled in the relationship between Mary and the infant Jesus — is at the center of the Filipino psyche. That, Father Rufo says, energizes Filipino hospitality.
Three other Filipino-born priests have been ordained recently for the archdiocese: Fathers Mariano Escano and Cary Reniva in 2009 and Father Ysrael Bien this year.
In 2008, the Filipino Catholic community of Oregon attained a goal that gave them more evangelizing possibilities. Members donated and worked to construct a Filipino shrine at the Grotto, Portland’s wooded sanctuary that has long been a focal point for Filipino travelers, including sailors from the ships that harbor in Portland.
The Dambana shrine is hub of a festival set to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 25, at the Grotto. It includes a rosary, Mass and, of course, refreshments.
“We don’t want to be a Filipino community just for the Filipinos,” Pia de Leon told the Catholic Sentinel last year. A member of St. Clare Parish in Portland, she was one of the lead organizers of the Dambana, a traditional gazebo.
Inside stand three statues of great important in Filipino spirituality: Mary as she appears in a statue in the cathedral in Manila, St. Lorenzo and the Holy Child of Cebu, an image whose original was given by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and Queen Juana, island royals, when they converted to Christianity.
Though Filipino Catholics often have small home altars, this is one of the first public shrines of its kind in the U.S., except the one at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.