purple drape throughout Lent then unveiled on Easter, symbolizing the resurrection. Fresh flowers adorn the churches on Easter, provided by the church and also brought in by parishioners.
Catholicism and Filipinos
A majority of Filipinos are baptized as Catholics. The Philippines is the largest Christian country in Asia and is the third largest Catholic country, behind Brazil and Mexico. The U.S. is the country with the fourth-largest Catholic population.
About 81 percent of Filipinos in the Philippines or about 76 million are Catholics. The percentage of Filipino-American Catholics is slightly lower at 65 percent.
In Hawaii, about 263,000 or 19.8 percent of the population are Catholic. There is no official number of how many of these Hawaii Catholics are Filipinos, but their large presence at every Catholic church in the state is undeniable.
Kelly Salvador of Pearl City, a Japanese who married a Filipino Catholic, converted to the faith so that her two daughters could be raised Catholic.
“It was important for us to attend church as a family, which is the main reason I joined the Church. I was raised a Christian Protestant but religion was not a major part of my life until I joined the Catholic Church,” said Salvador.
Her children were baptized Catholic, attended Sunday school, and received their sacrament of confirmation. “I saw and appreciated the religious values of my husband. Some of them are Filipino values, too. For me, the two – Catholic values and Filipino values – kind of overlap. I wanted to pass those same values on to my children since they are half-Filipino,” she said.
In Hawaii, there are many Filipino Catholic clubs under the umbrella organization Diocesan Congress of Filipino Catholic Clubs (DCFCC).
There is also an Office for Filipino Ministries that assists in bringing over priests from the Philippines to work in Hawaii. It was founded by Father Henry Benedict Sabog, the first priest of Filipino ancestry ordained in Hawaii in 1960.
Today, at any given time there are between 30-50 priests of Filipino ancestry working in the state, the highest number among ethnic groups.
On the mainland, Pope Francis named Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis of Los Angeles as bishop of Salt Lake City in Utah. Solis is the first Filipino to lead a U.S. diocese.
It is a tremendous blessing and a responsibility and a privilege to be of service to the local church in the United States of America, coming from the Philippines,” said Bishop Solis, a native of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.
How it all started
Catholicism took root in the Philippines in the early 16th century when Spanish missionaries and colonists brought over their religion, beginning in Cebu.
Fray Alfonso Jimenez, known as the first apostle of the region, had travelled the Camarines region through the islands of Masbate, Leyte, Samar and Burias, Philippines.
Eventually, Catholicism landed on the main island of Luzon and the first Catholic church was founded in Manila. Evangelization spread north to the Ilocos, starting with Vigan.
The missionaries – mostly Augustinians, Franciscans and Jesuits – chronicled that the most difficult obstacle in their evangelization was the many varieties of languages and dialects throughout the Philippines.
Prior to the arrival of Catholicism, Filipinos (who were not called Filipinos back then) held a variety of polytheistic beliefs and localized forms of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, mixed in with Animism. Monotheism was also present in pre-conquest Philippines; some Filipinos worshipped Bathala, who was considered the creator deity.
In time, Bathala was replaced by the Catholic-Christian God; and the many animist spirit gods were replaced with the pantheon of saints of the Catholic Church.
An evangelizing strategy was to convert the nobility, the datus, lakans, rajahs, sultans (indigenous community leaders) and their children. Catholic missionaries established schools where they’d teach Catholicism and the Spanish language to the children of nobility; then later Catholic schools were extended to the general population.
Carrying on tradition
Pope Francis said during his historic visit to the Philippines in 2015: “Filipinos everywhere are known for their love of God, their fervent piety and their warm devotion to Our Lady and her rosary. This great heritage contains a powerful missionary potential.”
The heritage of being Catholic is one part of being Filipino, among many other inherited aspects of “Filipinoness.”
Patton says “there are so many changes in our Church. Values have been taken for granted and old practices are no longer being observed by some. The younger generation do not observe the Lenten Season the way we adults are accustomed to.”
The conversion to evangelical Protestant, embrace of interfaith spiritualism, and preference for a more humanist-secular world – have all contributed to a drifting away from the Catholic Church and Catholic practices.
Families who remain Catholic often mention when the matriarch of a family passes on, it’s not too uncommon that religious practices gradually slide along with regular church attendance. Many Catholics today admit to going to church only on Christmas and Holy Week.
Then there are still many others steadfast to the faith. “As a Catholic, we observe the practices and guidelines of the Roman Catholic Church, mandated not only by the Church but also by Pope Paul IV. I am proud to say that my children and grandchildren have been raised with the same values and respect I gained from my parents,” said Patton.
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