Filipino Mass is held monthly at St. Peter in Austin
By Michele Chan Santos
Laughing, talking and embracing one another warmly, the 200 or so Filipino Americans who gathered in July in Austin for the monthly Filipino Mass demonstrated the friendliness and hospitality for which Filipinos are known. Longtime members of the community greeted each other like family, and new immigrants to the U.S. were welcomed and made to feel at home.
The Filipino Mass is conducted in Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines) and held at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Austin. Father Christopher Ferrer, who is Filipino, celebrates the monthly Mass, which is held on Saturdays at 4 p.m. (see box for details on the Mass). The Masses are followed by a potluck and social gathering.
These services began in May 2016, and sprang out of the Simbang Gabi celebrations held last December. Simbang Gabi (in Tagalog this means “Night Mass”) is a Filipino tradition, a devotional nine-day series of Masses held in anticipation of Christmas and to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last December, these nine Masses were celebrated at parishes in the Central Texas area. The people who attended enjoyed the gatherings so much that the idea of a monthly service was born.
“After Simbang Gabi, many people wanted to continue sharing their faith, and wanted to share their culture, as well as have a way to preserve their cultural heritage and language,” Father Ferrer said. “It is a way to bring grandparents, parents and children together.”
Dr. Hanzy Bustamante was one of the volunteers who helped organize the Filipino Mass.
“This Mass started out as Simbang Gabi. We realized we had to create a home for Filipinos, especially immigrants who were new to the United States. We identified a need in the immigrant community for them to make friends, to belong to a group,” Bustamante said.
Father Ferrer asked Bishop Joe Vásquez for permission to hold a monthly Filipino Mass at St. Peter the Apostle. Bishop Vásquez gave his approval.
“Bishop Joe was happy to grant this,” Father Ferrer said. “It’s a blessing for us as a community to worship together in our own language.”
At the most recent Filipino Mass, on July 23, some people came dressed in traditional Filipino formal clothing –– barong tagalogs for the men and long dresses (mestiza dresses) for the women. The large and talented choir sang beautiful songs in Tagalog, and the people attending sang along enthusiastically. Father Ferrer’s homily was in Tagalog.
Torre Sinsay promotes the Filipino Mass on social media (find more info at facebook.com/filipinomassinaustintx).
“I’m very happy that we have a Filipino Mass here,” Sinsay said. “A lot of our children go to this Mass, they can hear and sing our Filipino songs.”
After the Mass, people gathered in a hall for a potluck dinner and music. Many of the choir members are also in a band, which played Filipino songs during dinner. Traditional Filipino foods like pancit sotanghon (noodles with meat and vegetables), bibingka (coconut cake) and turon (sugared banana wrapped in an egg roll wrapper and fried) were served by volunteers.
Elisa Belderol is the choir director. Her favorite part of the Filipino Masses “is the camaraderie, the connection with each other that we feel,” she said. Elisa and several others described the emotion of coming together as bayanihan, which means “the spirit of community.”
Attending the Mass and the social gathering afterward “feels like being home again,” said Delia Cruz, one of the core volunteers who helps organize the gatherings. “The elderly look forward to this each month. Now that we have this Mass, we love it.”