Filipino traditions take root in Orlando Diocese

By Christine Commerce of the Florida Catholic – July 27, 2017

ORLANDO | Incense and prayers filled the air as more than 600 people, mostly of Filipino descent, followed Our Lady of Antipolo during a procession at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe on July 23.

The celebration in honor of Our Lady of Antipolo, or Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, is a Filipino tradition that began in 1626. Thirteen years ago, the Ministry to the Filipinos in the Diocese of Orlando decided to begin a local celebration.

“Amid current uncertainties in our world, our pilgrimage is a way of keeping us steadfast in our faith and allows us to express our constant love and reverence to our Blessed Mother for her maternal protection,” said Meliza Gonzales, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish in Orlando.

The devotion to Our Lady of Antipolo began when Don Juan Nino de Tabora left the shores of Mexico to travel to the Philippines. Governor Tabora, a devotee of the Blessed Virgin, brought with him on board the ship an image of the Virgin Mother and traveled safely across the Pacific Ocean arriving in the ports of Manila 391 years ago. Tabora attributed the galleon’s successful journey to the presence of the image of the Virgin Mother. Following the voyage, a religious procession took place from the Church of San Ignacio to the Catholic Cathedral, which became the first house of the Blessed Virgin.

Now, almost 400 years later, a similar procession to honor the Blessed Virgin takes place annually as Filipinos from around the state of Florida, recite the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and play traditional music before Mass with prayer intentions of faith, hope and charity.  The celebration was preceded by a nine-day Novena with the final day of prayer taking place at the Mass.

The tradition started when Bishop Thomas Wenski encouraged the Filipino people to bring this event to Orlando in July, 2005. Father Francisco “Kenny” Aquino, who gave the homily, has been celebrating the Mass since its inception. He spoke of forgiveness and hope for people saying that when the governor traveled from Mexico to the Philippines, he prayed to the Blessed Mother and never lost hope.

Father Aquino said that while we may hope for a perfect world, people are going to make mistakes and we must learn to practice restorative justice and help those people become better. The first step to forgiveness is to start with acceptance, apologize for your mistakes, and ask what you can do to make up for what you have done.

“By looking at the Blessed Mother Mary, through her we can see each other as brothers and sisters,” he said. “It is so hard to love. It is so hard to forgive. It is so hard to be compassionate especially when people are repeat offenders. Blessed Mother, touch our hearts so we can love others as your Son loved us.”

Following the Eucharistic celebration, children and adults brought forth bouquets, and baskets of flowers and roses. After Mass, participants enjoyed native delicacies and performances from musicians and dancers. The event drew people from beyond the Diocese of Orlando including St. Augustine, Tampa and Jacksonville.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect, to invigorate our faith, and strengthen their devotion to the Blessed Mother,” Father Aquino said. “It provides them an opportunity to be in solidarity with each other.”

Julie Walker, who was born in the Philippines and now attends Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Deltona, was invited by Father Aquino to dance at the event and found hope through the Virgin of Antipolo when she and her husband battled cancer.

Tess Marut, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish, attended the celebration to honor Our Lady, who holds a special place in her heart. Before Marut and her family traveled to the United States from the Philippines 25 years ago, she would visit the Lady of Antipolo image in the original church she was housed and pray for her intercession to God to be granted a visa.

“This is an annual celebration of the dedication and faith of the Filipino people,” she said. “It’s a really joyful celebration, and seeing the camaraderie of the Filipino people helps keep my faith alive.”