The Philippines is an archipelagic country where diversity in culture, language, tradition, and customs is visibly felt and seen. Since the country is divided into almost 7, 600 islands, sometimes our being diverse and apart from each other could create misunderstanding, form a regionalism perspective, and disunity. Some would brag that their culture is better than others. However, as I journeyed here and abroad, I observed that wherever I go, one of the unifying factors that could make Filipinos one is through our faith and love. The Church is very instrumental in bringing us together as one despite our diversity and differences.
When I was working in South Korea, the Catholic Church in Hyehwa dong is the most popular Church where every Sunday Filipinos from every part of the country gathered together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Also, in most of the industrial cities where Filipinos are working, the migrant centers are where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is also celebrated. Then, every time we gather for a Christmas party and other Church-related activities, laughter and fun take place. Reflecting on my experience, I realized that, on an exclusive level belonging to a certain island in the Philippines is part of my identity, but from an inclusive point of view, most of the islands in the Philippines share that same Christian faith with me. I saw and experienced that when Filipinos work abroad unity despite diversity happens. In the migrant center where I was volunteering, we helped Filipinos because they are our fellow men and women; their religion didn’t matter. It appears to me that our faith is much deeper, and it prevails over our differences even though we are living in an archipelagic country. Our faith which transforms in love brings us together as one Filipino community.
In Pakistan, I also saw and experienced a flourishing Filipino community whereby because of faith, Filipinos unite. Mostly, our Masses there were held at the houses or apartments of Filipinas married to local fellows. Filipinos who have birthdays for a certain month will contribute for us to have a salo salo (banquet or party) after the Mass. Some would request a special Mass for some relatives who died, and others would ask for a house blessing. Our rich faith is our identity and hallmark that we bring as Filipinos wherever we go. We always put our faith in the center whereby during our Christmas party the Eucharist takes place first before anything else. Through our faith, we find comfort, care, joy, and support from one another.
This year 2021 is significant for us Filipinos as the whole country is celebrating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. This event is another sign of unity where every parish and diocese in the whole archipelago is preparing for this momentous event. I believe that one of the greatest legacies of early missionaries is our faith. That faith that they passed on to us goes lives in our hearts resulting in love for God and love for others. Our faith becomes inclusive extending to others, setting aside our differences, and respecting and celebrating our diversities.
Columban seminarian Elbert Balbastro provided this reflection.