Filipinos in Oakland fete PH Christianity with big checks for diocese and Ukraine
SAN RAMON, California – More than 500 mostly Filipino guests at a recent gala celebrating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines surprised Bishop Michael C. Gordon SJ by handing him two big checks.
The event’s organizers had raised $50,000 in donations to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland for its Diocesan Retreat Center, and $10,000 for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
It has been over 500 years since the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, under the banner of the Spanish King Carlos, shared his faith with the tribal King Humabon of Cebu and his over 2,200 followers. Since then, the Catholic faith has spread throughout the Philippine archipelago of 7,701 islands. Today, 87% of 112,273,356 Filipinos (as of May 2022) are Catholic.
The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia, and third largest in the world after Brazil and Mexico. Due to political and economic reasons, there are now 12 million Filipinos spread throughout the world– carrying with them their strong faith.
It is said that Filipino expats in Europe, Middle East, United States and elsewhere fill Catholic Churches that had been losing parishioners. And Filipino priests have been following and servicing the spiritual needs of their flock across these nations.
Fr. Carl Arcosa, Diocesan, Director for Vocations, said that in the Oakland Diocese alone, there are 15-17 Filipino priests and around 200,000 Filipino families. With this many Filipinos, the iconic Filipino tradition of the “Simbang Gabi” (nine dawn masses in anticipation of Christmas) is now being celebrated in 30 of the 82 parishes in the diocese.
Bishop Gordon, of the Oakland Diocese has this to say, “Filipino Catholics, priests and sisters have gone throughout the whole world and kept the faith alive in every place including Oakland and San Francisco. So, it’s really a great testament to their missionary zeal and fidelity to Christ. They brought their faith and handed them down to their families, to their children and their faith continues to grow because of the fidelity of Filipino Catholics.”
Five years in the making
Fr. Erick Villa, SJ, Parish Priest of St. Raymond Parish of San Ramon, and organizer of the “Gifted to Give” celebration, wrote in the invitation that after a series of symposia, fellowship and liturgies the past five years, “all roads led to this colorful event that will be filled with conversations, culture, food, dancing, and memories to treasure for generations to come!”
True enough, prior to the doors opening for the gala festivities at the San Ramon Marriott, last April 30, 2022, there were three food stations each loaded with a whole lechon, veggie lumpia and lumpiang Shanghai.
A Sinulog parade preceded the dinner reception, with the “Reyna Elena,” Ms. Philippines USA, Tourism, Bianca Tapia, carrying a small bronze image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu, which was then enthroned at the ceremonial arc on stage.
As in any formal Filipino affair, a Rigodon de Honor was presented, headed by Deacon Rey and Rose Encarnacion of St. Agnes Parish Concord, Geof and Pat Saturnino, Alex and Ler Paras of Holy Spirit Parish, Fremont; Helen Cabiles and Johnny Veloso of St. Anne Parish, Union City.
There were Folk dances from the Mabuhay Folklorico Society and patriotic songs by Ariel Mayormita of St. Joaquim Parish, and Fr. Theodbriel (Bong) R. Villariza, Jr., St. Michael Church, Livermore. Most of the guests wore their beautiful regional Filipino attire.
Noel Panlilio, California State Council Knight of Columbus, said that the 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines is a “manifestation of our faith.”
Before the evening ended, each of the over 500 guests were given a miniature bronze image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu blessed by Bishop Gordon. Fr. Villa prayed, “Grant us the grace that we need to continue Your mission.”