For the first time in its history, the Diocese of Harrisburg celebrated the Filipino Catholic community with an event highlighting the faith, culture and food of the people from the southeast Asian country.
St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle hosted the event, which attracted various Filipino communities from across the Diocese. The gathering began with the celebration of Mass by Father Donald Bender, pastor, who was joined at the altar by Deacon Virgilio Centenera of St. Patrick’s and Deacon Armando Torres of the Diocesan Office of Catholic Life and Evangelization.
Reciting prayers and singing hymns in their native language, several generations of Filipinos joined together in worship.
At the conclusion of Mass, the congregation assembled for a traditional Santa Cruzan, an outdoor Marian procession around the parish grounds. The custom featured a dozen girls and young women – accompanied by escorts beneath floral arches – solemnly processing in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother.
The girls were dressed in beautiful gowns and tiaras, each one representing a different Reyna or “queen” as they accompanied the Virgin Mary with their sashes. Among them were the Queen of Peace, Queen of Faith, Queen of Justice and Queen of Charity.
The procession moved into the Parish Activity Center, where the girls and their escorts were introduced – along with their parents and their place of heritage in the Philippines – and the entire community enjoyed camaraderie during a potluck dinner.
Liana Tenebro was Reyna Elena (Helena of Constantinople) in the procession; according to legend, she found the True Cross.
Tenebro, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Lebanon, was born in the Philippines and lived there for half of her life; she came to the United States when she was ten years old.
“An event like this is so beautiful to me, because I haven’t been to the Philippines since I came here,” she told The Witness. “Seeing a lot of Filipinos in one place celebrating the culture is so wonderful.”
Tenebro said hearing and reciting prayers and hymns in her native language during the Mass was a sentimental experience.
“All of the Masses I’ve ever been to since I came to the United States have been in English. Hearing it in my language is sentimental, and it makes me miss home. I hope this is the start of more celebrations to come,” she said.
Deacon Centenera told The Catholic Witness he hopes this is the first of many events for the Filipino Catholic community. He’s looking to begin plans for a Simbang Gabi – a pre-dawn Mass – at Christmas.
“There is a fairly large Filipino community in Central Pennsylvania, but we’ve always been sort of splintered. One of the things that’s always united the Filipino people is the Catholic faith and the celebration of the family and our family values. So the idea for today is to gather the various groups together, centered around the liturgy and the Santa Cruzan,” he said.
“We also want this to be a joint effort moving forward, rather than being sponsored by one specific group. My goal is to have this at different parishes from year to year so that everyone gets a chance to host it,” he said. “The idea is to bring the Filipino people together, and what better way than with the celebration of faith, family and food.”
If you’d like to learn more about future events of the Filipino community, or how you can get involved, contact Deacon Centenera at St. Patrick Parish at 717-243-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness