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Devotion remains central to Filipino faith life.

For the past 23 years, hundreds of Toronto's Filipino-Catholic community have gathered at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Don Mills the third Saturday in September to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia, the patroness of the Philippine Bicol region.

It's a moving, faith-filled event marking the aid of Our Lady in a number of healings and cures. Homage to Our Lady of Penafrancia began in 12th-century Spain, but later came to new prominence in the Philippines. In the intervening years, the shrine to Our Lady of Penafrancia in the Bicol region has been the scene of what the faithful believe are dozens of miraculous intercessions.

The tradition was brought to Toronto in 1973 by Ric and Ching Reyes of Don Mills. After modest beginnings, the Penafrancia feast has grown to a major event in the Filipino-Catholic calendar. The Mass marking the feast day is a grand event, with several priests and one of the archdiocese's auxiliary bishops concelebrating on the altar. A massed Filipino choir adds the solemnity, and at the end of the Mass, people stand in long lineups to await their opportunity to touch the likeness of Our Lady.

"The celebration keeps growing year after year," says Ching Reyes, a woman whose devotion to Our Lady is undiminished after 23 years. "We like to think it's the work of Our Blessed Mother."

In many ways, the Penafrancia celebration can be seen as a model of the Filipino faith contribution to the church in Toronto and wherever in Canada the people have settled in significant numbers. It's a faith marked by a strong devotional element, seen particularly in support of prayer groups, Divine Mercy, Novena Masses, the Legion of Mary and various Charismatic renewal efforts.

Many in Toronto and other large Canadian dioceses see Filipino Catholics as playing an important role in revitalizing long-neglected devotional practices. Some have suggested that a number of the inner-city churches would be nearly empty were it not for Filipino Catholics. At St. Patrick's parish in downtown Toronto for example, Filipinos are the strongest supporters of weekly novenas.

"The devotional life of the Filipino community is unique," says Father Paul Zimmer, pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Scarborough, Ontario. "The Church has been at the centre of their lives and their faith is very much at the surface."

Prince of Peace is one of several parishes in the greater Toronto area whose parishioner base has been bolstered by the Filipino presence. Father Zimmer said not only have Filipino Catholics brought back a rich devotional tradition, but they are keen to support prayer and worship in other Catholic parishes.

Vancouver

The situation is similar in other dioceses throughout Canada. Father Gregory Smith, chancellor of the Vancouver archdiocese, said Filipinos have made a significant contribution in Western Canada. "Filipinos are the dominant force in three or four Vancouver parishes and they make a major contribution in a number of others," he said.

According to Father Smith, there are few pastoral services targeted specially to Filipino Catholics. Most involve support at the parish level for the many devotional practices so special to the Filipino faith tradition. He suggested that Filipinos generally have little trouble integrating into established parishes and that most of their pastoral needs are met by existing structures. "The Filipino community is served primarily through our regular parishes, and the people have become the backbone of many of them."

Winnipeg

The picture is repeated in Winnipeg. There, Filipino Catholics have a somewhat longer history, arriving in the post-World-War-II years in search of work in the garment industry.

Archdiocesan spokesman Rick Osicki reported Filipinos are in the majority in a number of parishes. "We've long had a multicultural church in the Winnipeg archdiocese," Osicki said, "but the Filipinos have definitely made a strong contribution. They have certainly revitalized some of our parishes with their presence. We've long noted their devotion and their unquestioning acceptance of the faith."

Osicki said a number of Filipino priests have begun arriving in the Winnipeg archdiocese to take up parish assignments. Although these priests aren't necessarily assigned to parishes with a high concentration of Filipinos, their presence is encouraging to the faithful there.

The general community

The emerging pattern is one of adaptability, integration and devotion. Many commentators, from consulate workers to multiculturalism advisors, not the talent of Filipinos to adapt to new surroundings and conditions.

"The Canadian Filipino community as a whole is doing very well," says Dante Ano, a spokesman for the Philippine Consulate General in Toronto. "Canada has been hospitable to the community and they've been able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them."

The Philippines proved to be fertile ground for Catholic missionary efforts in the mid 16th-century. The faith thrived despite periods of anticlericalism and the actions of some governments to control church affairs. In 1986, the Catholic Church in the Philippines played a key role in ending the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. Today nearly 84 per cent of the country's 66 million people are Catholic.

Father Ray Montague, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, spent three years as a parish priest in the Philippines in the mid-1970s. He remembers being impressed with the people's attachment to the local parish. Even teenagers, he said, flocked to the parish and made it a central part of their lives.

"The emphasis today on devotional practices is linked to their culture," Father Montague said. "Our doctrine of the saints fits in well with their spirituality."

Noemi Castillo, coordinator of the ethnic ministry program for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said the majority of Filipino Catholics express the faith through popular piety. Castillo's office recently presented a seminar on Asian ministry for priests of Vancouver. She said the faith is marked by a strong devotion to the saints, and owing to the Spanish influence, a love for celebrations. This latter aspect often turns sacraments--Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage--into social events involving relatives, neighbours and friends.

Immigration

Many of the first Filipinos to arrive in North America were lured by the promise of hospital and garment-trade employment. Large groups originally settled in the United States, and with the expiration of work visas, made their way to Canada, particularly Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver. The flow intensified in the 1970s when the declaration of martial law under the Marcos regime spurred further emigration.

Between 1946 and 1964, only 770 Filipino families arrived in Canada. The number swelled throughout the 1970s and 80s. Today, there are approximately 225,000 Filipinos in Canada, with one-third of that total residing in the greater Toronto area.

The settlement patterns of first-generation Filipino-Canadians in Toronto show the importance of the Catholic Church in their daily lives. Often a factor in choosing a place to live was proximity of the local church. As a result, downtown Toronto parishes such as Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Basil's, Holy Family and St. Michael's Cathedral show a high proportion of Filipino parishioners.

The earlier arrivals lived frugally, often living two to three in an apartment suite and pooling their resources. Many came with impressive backgrounds and work experience from the old country, but a lack of Canadian experience forced them to settle for low-paying, unskilled jobs.

Ruben Cusipag, in his 1993 work A Portrait of Filipino Canadians in Ontario, suggested the fast pace of Western life has reduced the number of Filipinos who attend church regularly. As well, the inevitable conflict between old and new community values has led to some relaxation of faith practices, such as the daily recitation of the family Rosary.

Nonetheless the church continues to be the focal point for many, especially those who settled in the downtown core. Today some 15 Philippine-born priests serve in the Toronto archdiocese, with a number of seminarians waiting in the wings.

Father Dan Palilio, referred to by author Cusipag as the first Filipino priest in Metro Toronto, celebrated the first Filipino (Tagalog) language Mass in November, 1976, at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, site of today's Penafrancia feast. Father Palilio, now at St. Bernadette's parish in Oshawa, has seen the Filipino Catholic community grow substantially over his 20 years in Toronto. He echoed the view that Filipinos adapt easily to new circumstances and integrate well with established parish communities. The people's ease with the English language, he said, also plays a major role in the smooth integration.

Perhaps it is that familiarity with the English language, coupled with their ability to integrate, that has eliminated the need for a national Filipino parish in Toronto and elsewhere. Unlike most other new Canadian groups, the Filipinos have no native parish. The closest equivalent is the Filipino chaplaincy established in the Toronto archdiocese in 1981.

Father Rudy Imperial oversees its work from its base at John XXIII parish in Don Mills. In addition to offering a weekly celebration of Mass in the Tagalog language, the chaplaincy provides marriage enrichment, evangelization groups, a diverse worship committee and a program for live-in caregivers.

The caregiver program is especially relevant in the light of the influx of Filipinos leaving home to work as domestics. Some estimates have put the figure at 4.2 million migrant Filipino women scattered among 43 countries. There are approximately 90,000 Filipino women in Canada now employed as domestics. Separated from their families, these women become vulnerable to big-city dangers. While the Church provides some spiritual comfort to them, they remain a disadvantaged group in an increasingly violent North American environment.

Chit Bautista runs the Aware program for live-in caregivers for the Filipino chaplaincy of the Toronto archdiocese. Most of the effort here is spent in helping nannies cope with separation from husbands and families while they struggle with new conditions in Canada. As well, a large number of them send a portion of their salaries back to families in the Philippines. or the past 23 years, hundreds of Toronto's Filipino-Catholic community have gathered at Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Don Mills the third Saturday in September to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Penafrancia, the patroness of the Philippine Bicol region.

It's a moving, faith-filled event marking the aid of Our Lady in a number of healings and cures. Homage to Our Lady of Penafrancia began in 12th-century Spain, but later came to new prominence in the Philippines. In the intervening years, the shrine to Our Lady of Penafrancia in the Bicol region has been the scene of what the faithful believe are dozens of miraculous intercessions.

The tradition was brought to Toronto in 1973 by Ric and Ching Reyes of Don Mills. After modest beginnings, the Penafrancia feast has grown to a major event in the Filipino-Catholic calendar. The Mass marking the feast day is a grand event, with several priests and one of the archdiocese's auxiliary bishops concelebrating on the altar. A massed Filipino choir adds the solemnity, and at the end of the Mass, people stand in long lineups to await their opportunity to touch the likeness of Our Lady.

"The celebration keeps growing year after year," says Ching Reyes, a woman whose devotion to Our Lady is undiminished after 23 years. "We like to think it's the work of Our Blessed Mother."

In many ways, the Penafrancia celebration can be seen as a model of the Filipino faith contribution to the church in Toronto and wherever in Canada the people have settled in significant numbers. It's a faith marked by a strong devotional element, seen particularly in support of prayer groups, Divine Mercy, Novena Masses, the Legion of Mary and various Charismatic renewal efforts.

Many in Toronto and other large Canadian dioceses see Filipino Catholics as playing an important role in revitalizing long-neglected devotional practices. Some have suggested that a number of the inner-city churches would be nearly empty were it not for Filipino Catholics. At St. Patrick's parish in downtown Toronto for example, Filipinos are the strongest supporters of weekly novenas.

"The devotional life of the Filipino community is unique," says Father Paul Zimmer, pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Scarborough, Ontario. "The Church has been at the centre of their lives and their faith is very much at the surface."

Prince of Peace is one of several parishes in the greater Toronto area whose parishioner base has been bolstered by the Filipino presence. Father Zimmer said not only have Filipino Catholics brought back a rich devotional tradition, but they are keen to support prayer and worship in other Catholic parishes.

Vancouver

The situation is similar in other dioceses throughout Canada. Father Gregory Smith, chancellor of the Vancouver archdiocese, said Filipinos have made a significant contribution
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Author:Mike Mastromatteo
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Nov 1, 1996
Words:2106
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