Traditions in Filipino Spirituality

Holy Week had just passed and once again, the Philippines was featured on television. Scenes from some areas were shown wherein men, the upper parts of their bodies naked, walked along the dusty roads, flagellating themselves on Good Friday. The “Penitensya” has become a tourist attraction that draws crowds from distant places, some of whom are foreigners to the country. This practice is just a part of the Filipino religions traditions during Holy Week.  Another one is the “Pabasa”which was brought to Canada by Filipinos. This is the reading in song of the passion of Jesus Christ. Several organizations in the City of Toronto held the “Pabasa” on Maundy Thursday to ?Good Friday, a 24 hours melodious singing of the life of Jesus Christ – his birth, life of teaching and miracles, his agony and death on the cross and his glorious resurrections. People came and went participating in the reading and bringing food for the guests to eat.

            Another Filipino Holy Week tradition is the commemoration of the seven last words of Jesus Christ while he was nailed to the cross. This is called the “Siete Palabras” or “Pitong Wika”, usually done by a priest from twelve to three o’clock in the afternoon of Good Friday. Here in Canada lay people undertake these rituals.

            Regional celebrations like the “Pista ni Santa Marta” the fluvial parade of the Bicolanos in honour of the Blessed Virgin, the Feast of the Holy Immaculate Conception, block rosaries and various prayer groups have also been brought to Canada by Filipinos.

These gatherings have brought Filipino Canadians together and have served not just as religious observations but also a great excuse to socialize, feast and be merry.

            The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in the Far East, a Spanish legacy. About 82 percent of its population are Catholics. American rule brought Protestantism and the southern tip has remained Islam. There are also some other small groups of other religious beliefs. With Catholics being the majority of the population immigrants to Canada also belong mostly to this religious group. There are however some protestant churches where members are mostly Filipinos.

            In some parts of Toronto wherein many Filipinos live, the church participation of Filipinos is very evident. They are members of the choir, ushers, word and Eucharistic ministers. They participate in church bake sales, other fund raising events and special celebrations,

            There are also a considerable number of Filipino priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto. A chaplain has been designated for the Filipino Community who is also the pastor in one of the churches. Some of them were ordained in the Philippines while some had studied and were ordained right here in Canada. Masses in Tagalog are held in few churches.

Many members of other ethnocultural groups have met and got acquainted with Filipinos through the church. They find them friendly, humble, cooperative and sociable. They enjoy the Filipino dishes that our people bring in church potlucks. The cultural participation of Filipinos in the form of folk dances and songs are highly appreciated by the congregation.    

Each ethnocultural group maintains its identity through the distinct traditions that its people bring with them. In some cases these traditions take them apart from other groups. Examples are the hijab of the Muslims and the Kirpan of the Sikhs. The tradition of wearing the hijab that covers the face, except the eyes of a certain group of Mid Eastern women has brought laws in some Canadian provinces prohibiting such practice. The kirpan is a small ceremonial dagger that Sikhs wear, hidden in their clothing. Controversies had risen towards this practice, but this religions group has succeeded in continuing with the tradition. Recently, a member of this community was stabbed with a kirpan. The group is now anxious that the incident may be used to prohibit the carrying of the kirpan.

            Like all the other ethnocultural groups, Filipinos have also brought many of their traditions to Canada. Similar to the other groups most of them are related to religion. They, however, have brought other members of the community from different cultures to join in observing these traditions. These traditions have been instrumental in mainstreaming of some Filipinos.

            It is very encouraging to see that Filipino traditions have brought us closer to many other ethnocultural members in the community, Filipino religious fiestas start in the church and end in local parks wherein guests are invited to huge feasts, complete with the “lechon” which is now becoming a favourite of many Canadians. In the Philippines, one can never tell how many guests he or she will have because invited friends or relatives usually bring their own buddies whom the host does not know. This is an acceptable practice among Filipinos that has been brought to Canada. During fiestas and other social occasions, co workers from different cultural groups are invited to the park to join in the feast.

            The traditions that are rooted in religion are often the source of moral values held dear by Filipinos. Respect for elders and obedience to parents are some of them. Humility is a character trait of many Filipinos that is also a part of religious teachings. Strong faith in the Almighty has been a staunch support in times of difficulties and despair.

            Continuing in the practice of many religious traditions provides the opportunity to expose the younger generation of Filipino Canadians to the culture of the home country of their parents. And to the whole Filipino Canadian community joining in these traditions gives the feeling of closeness and oneness and helps maintain that identity of being Filipino in another land we now call home.

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