The Archdiocese of Vancouver has launched a program focused on Catholics from the Philippines.
According to the B.C. Catholic newspaper, it is the first-ever ministry for Filipino Catholics in the diocese.
“We realize that, even if as a church we’re not doing anything directly with the Filipinos, they are still populating our parishes and making the parishes alive,” said Deacon Greg Barcelon, the coordinator of the new ministry, in the newspaper’s report.
The B.C. Catholic paper noted that Filipinos have a significant presence in Metro Vancouver.
The newspaper cited the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada that there were 112,090 Filipinos living in Metro Vancouver in 2011.
“What more can we do for them to draw them closer to the parishes?”
There has never before been an archdiocesan ministry specifically for Catholic Filipinos.
“We want them to move from being devotees to being disciples,” the deacon said.
“Filipinos are devotees. They have very strong devotions to Mother Mary or the saints, but they are not disciples. They have a very strong expression of the faith, but it’s often just ‘me and my God.'”
According to the B.C. Catholic paper’s report, Barcelon has a four-part mandate for the ministry. The first part is about helping pastors and Filipinos connect.
“Many pastors do not understand Filipino culture,” he said. For example, a common practice among people from the Philippines, especially those new to Canada, is to show respect by touching the hands of their priests and of people who are older than them to their foreheads.
“Many priests are not comfortable with that,” perhaps because they are unaware of what it means, he said. “It’s asking for a blessing.”
People from the Philippines are often “very personal,” added Barcelon in the paper’s report.
“They go for a priest who somehow cares for them or exhibits interest in them. If you don’t exhibit interest in them, they will run to the next parish.”
That’s why he’s so interested in making disciples. “When they become disciples, it doesn’t matter who the priest is. When you’re a disciple, you’re with the Lord, and whether the priest is nice to you or not, it doesn’t matter. You stay in the parish.”
The second part of his mandate is to connect Filipino Catholic associations. There are many groups, such as Bukas Loob Sa Diyos and Couples for Christ, that are thriving in the diocese.
“They are growing, but our parishes are not growing” because these groups often function outside parishes. Deacon Barcelon hopes to work with these organizations to find out how they can work more closely with parishes.
The third part of his mandate has to do with leadership: there are “very few Filipinos in leadership,” although there are so many of them in the archdiocese.
In 2015, there were 165 priests in active ministry in the diocese, but only about 12 from the Philippines. Of 22 seminarians now in the diocese, three are Filipino.
The same trend runs through local Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus chapters, the deacon said.
The Knights of Columbus have B.C. and Yukon state deputy Arcie Lim, but few other Filipino leaders. “You see the discrepancy in terms of representation. The Filipinos are very strong communally but weak individually.”
His peers are willing to act as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist or provide food for events, but few become leaders, and those who do, gravitate toward organizations outside their parishes.
The B.C. Catholic paper reported that the fourth part of his mandate is to provide public celebrations, including a massive event at Rogers Arena in about three years.
Barcelon has his eyes set on Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila as the big name speaker. “If we are big and numerous, there is a lot of opportunity to witness to our faith publicly.”
The ministry was launched Oct. 16, the B.C. Catholic reported.
Father Donald Larson, who attended the launch, promoted Filipino feasts and traditions at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver after he became pastor in 1995.
“I knew they had a strong Catholic culture and it would be beneficial if they were more engaged in the life of the parish,” he said. “Some of them are involved, but lots of them are not involved.”
They celebrated various devotions and feasts, including the Christmas celebration Simbang Gabi. In about 1997, he was part of an effort to put together an association of Catholic Filipinos. “It didn’t go very far.”
After the Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines in January, the idea of a Filipino ministry was revived. “I think there is a great potential,” said Father Larson, now the pastor of All Saints Parish.
“The Filipinos are already greatly involved in the diocese, but there is potential for a deeper level of engagement. We look forward to what they can bring to the life of the archdiocese,” Father Larson said in the B.C. Catholic paper’s report.