This article is ninth in a series of articles about Asian and Pacific Islander ethnic groups of immigrants and refugees to the United States, and how the Church might better serve their pastoral needs. The article is adapted from a paper by Rev. Jose Arong, OMI, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Oakland, California.
The Republic of the Philippines, located off the southeast coast of Asia, is one of the largest island groups in the world, numbering 7,107 islands. The 1995 population was approximately 60.5 million, with fifty-five percent of the people living on the largest island of Luzon. Approximately eighty-five percent of Filipinos are Catholic, with large numbers of Protestants and Moslems. thr
Filipinos comprise approximately 111 cultural and linguistic groups, mainly of Malayo-Polynesian origin. The ethnic make-up of the population has been greatly influenced by Chinese, Spanish, and Caucasian American intermarriages. Among the eleven language groups of the country, Pilipino is the official national language which is native to the peoples of Central Luzon. The Philippines is, nevertheless, the third largest English-speaking country in the world.
During the sixteenth century, Spain conquered the islands which they named for King Phillip II as "Las Islas Filipiinas" or the Philippine Islands. After 327 years of Spanish domination, the Filipinos revolted, and won their independence in 1898. However, after the Spanish-American War, the United States controlled the Philippines until 1942, when Japan seized control until they were liberated by the Americans. Finally, in 1946, the American Congress granted independence to the Filipinos, and the second Republic of the Philippines was born.
Historians identify four major waves of Filipino migration to the United States. The first wave between 1898 and 1941 was comprised mostly of "pensionados" or scholars sent by the American government to U.S. schools, and large numbers of laborers recruited to work on farms in Hawaii and California. Filipino soldiers, who served in the U.S. armed forces, and their families came from 1945 until the early '60s. Professionals were encouraged to come in the 1960s and '70s during the boom years of the U.S. economy. The final wave came when U.S. immigration policies favored family reunification of those Filipinos already in the United States as immigrants or citizens. The 1990 U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than twenty-five percent of the foreign-born population claimed Asia as their birthplace, with the largest Asian group of Filipinos numbering 1.2 million persons. The states with the largest Filipino population are California, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, Texas, Florida, and Maryland.
Filipino Catholics' experience of church is very different from that of most U.S. parishioners. Filipino parishes are very large, with little personal interaction between priest and people. Filipinos are not used to registering in a parish or contributing through Sunday envelopes. Also, according to the Commission on Education and Religious Instruction of the Filipino Bishops' Conference, "Filipino Catholicism has always ... [stressed] ...rites and ceremonies. Fiestas, processions, pilgrimages, novenas, innumerable devotional practices...mark the concrete devotional practice of Filipino Catholics. Much of what they know of Christian doctrinal truths and moral values is learned through these sacramental and devotional practices." (A Catholic Response to the Asian Presence, Washington, DC: NCEA, 1990)
Recently, however, Filipinos have begun to take an active role in American Church life. Their sheer numbers, their youth and vigor have forced parishes to recognize their presence. For example, in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Filipinos comprise approximately eighteen percent of the church-going population. As their religious heritage is more appreciated, they are encouraged to share their unique practices of popular piety such as, Simbang Gabi (pre-Christmas novena of Masses), Flores de Mayo (Marion devotion), Pagbasa ng Mahal na Pasyon (solemn readings of the passion, devotions to the saints, novenas to the Nazareno, the feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz (the first Filipino martyr), etc. Today, many dioceses in the United States have offices that focus on Filipino ministries.
A survey conducted in 1995 indicates that there were approximately 300 Filipino priests, brothers, and deacons, and 200 sisters in the United States. Several priests were appointed pastors, many religious were appointed Catholic school principals, and many Filipinos have responsible positions in diocesan chanceries. Recently, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops through the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees appointed a priest-delegate to act as liaison to Filipino priests and religious, and as a point of contact with the Bishops of the Philippines.
Starting in 1990, Filipino Catholic leaders gathered at four large national "Sandiwa" Conferences to proclaim their identity and establish their place in the American Church. That special place is symbolized by the dedication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage of Antipolo at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. There she stands side by side with the religious symbols of the peoples of many other countries who have come to make this land the great nation that it is. After 100 years, it seems the Filipinos have finally arrived.
Regarding ministry with Filipinos in the United States, the survey cited above identified several directives to be pursued by pastoral ministers:
- Focus on Filipino youth who are doubly coping with being second generation Americans, and with the culture and religious devotions of their parents.
- Offer continuing religious education to Filipinos who came to this country as "cradle Catholics."
- Evangelize the native religious traditions which now sustain the faith of the first generation Filipinos.
- Focus on Filipino marriages, because spouses are coping with a liberal social environment and also with the pressures of financial stability.
Prepared by the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, 3211 Fourth Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20017. Phone (202) 541-3230 or fax (202) 541-3351.