One Church Many Cultures The Good News of Cultural Diversity Spring/Summer 2021
Asian and Pacific Islanders
By: Clarissa Martinez, Director of Liturgy & Music, St. Catherine of Siena Church, Reseda, CA
It was Memorial Weekend in 1997 on a Northwest Airlines Flight when I set foot in Los Angeles, California from Manila, the Philippines at 16 years old. I was greeted by my extended family and my dad who came months ahead prior to my arrival along with my mom and the rest of my siblings. Due to financial crisis, we had no means of sustaining our living, including my education, and the only option my father had was to leave behind the motherland in search of “greener pasture.” As a teenager, doubtful and with only two pieces of luggage in tow, I thought, “now, what?”
My story is nothing out of ordinary. This is all of our stories — our fathers — our fathers’ fathers. Even St. Joseph had a story to tell of how he brought his family to Egypt when the situation was not quite ideal in the homeland. And all of us who share this story have one destination: entering into the mystery. A mystery not of the unknown but of “God-known”.
The Philippine Islands was a land of mystery to a small group of voyagers who set sail 500 years ago from Spain. It is difficult to imagine what the conditions were like. It was not a 14-hour flight by plane, rather, sailing in the waters on a galleon would mean months before they even see land. In this expedition, did the travelers willingly joined or were they enlisted? Were they adventurers or were they scared of the unknown —like me? I can imagine some of them were fathers too who left their wife and kids behind with a promise that they will come home with hope for a better life.
2021 marks these 500 years when the image of the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño, was presented to the King and Queen of the island of Cebu. The Queen was moved to tears with the image of the little child, it made way for hundreds, led by the king and queen, to be baptized into Christ. Recognizing this as more than Christian History, we honor the sacred past of the indigenous who imbedded in the Filipino streams of life the fullness of God in all of us. This commemoration is not merely set aside as past but we enter into the mystery with the full awareness that our identity as Filipinos had always been inextricable, linked to the propagation of the faith.
“Gifted to Give: Enlivening our Faith, Transforming the World” is a year-long celebration in the United States that would open spaces for expressions of inter and intra-cultural gifts, inter-generational mutual listening, sharing of the rich and the poor, thus promoting new spaces for truthful, more intimate sharing. One aspect of faith connectivity is stringing the threads of stories of individuals and families in the website www.1521stories.com where it becomes a safe gathering space to begin to recognize Christ in one another’s journeys. As brothers and sisters, regardless of where we are in our faith, we share the sacred pathways woven in the mystery of our lives.
With the alarming increase in the number of young people leaving the Church and the social isolation the pandemic has deepened, it is enough for us to intentionally pause, listen and recognize that the darkness may not necessarily be caused by doubt or cynicism or indifference but it brings to light this mystery of joy and exuberance in the Power of the Cross — a reminder that hidden in the suffering and darkness is the glory of God, and in our endurance traded by the sorrowful passion of Christ, we overcome our own weaknesses —individual, cultural, or ecclesial— through the power of His Resurrection.
St. Augustine of Hippo seems to be a life-explorer himself: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him the greatest human achievement.” The quincentenary celebration is a gift that Filipinos give to the universal Church and the world. When time seemed to have been seized from our contemporary culture in this last year, as we turn the corner into a post-pandemic way of life, may this be a moment of waiting for God’s time by reflecting, sharing, and listening to one another’s sacred stories. In contemplating, what 500 years of Christianity means to the Philippines, may we — Filipinos or brothers and sisters in Christ (aka all of God’s children)— venture into the God-known mysteries of our lives —the mystery hidden from ages that is, “Christ in YOU, the hope for glory.” (Colossians 1:27) As a Catholic Church, we are gifted to give: that through Christ may all things be reconciled in Him (Colossians 1:20).