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Filipino Heritage Day 2015

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By Breanne Reilly (June 29, 2015)

By cars and by buses, more than 100 Filipino pilgrims pulled up to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Saturday for a day dedicated to faith, family, and a shared spiritual legacy. Their car license plates and buses read, "New Jersey," "Florida," and "Canada." Each pilgrim had traveled at least three hours to celebrate the annual Filipino Heritage Day at the Shrine, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where they could sing, dance, and pray as a united community.

Karen Japson, who journeyed from Jersey City, New Jersey, and was one of the event's organizers, said that Filipino Heritage Day gives Filipinos from all over the world a time to recharge and reinvigorate their faith. Check out a video from the day:

The Philippines is the most predominately Catholic country in Asia, and Filipinos have long been the Church's most ardent apostles of the Divine Mercy message and devotion.

"Sparks for the belief in Divine Mercy came from Poland, but the message was spread by Filipinos," Japson said.

Monsignor Jeremiah Rebanal, who is celebrating 60 years of priesthood, was initially inspired to host Filipino Heritage Day at the Shrine 14 years ago after Pope John Paul II declared Divine Mercy Sunday a universal feast day for the Church.

Monsignor Rebanal said Saturday's celebration was focused on encouraging young people to live the faith and to spread the news that God's mercy is greater than our sins.

"Today's culture gives the idea that once you have fallen into sin, there's no way to get out of it," Mgr. Rebanal said. "Divine Mercy propagates that there is mercy, and God always gives us hope."

Indeed, Jesus told St. Faustina, "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 723).

People are reluctant to ask for God's forgiveness, noted Msgr. Rebanal, because they are afraid to seem weak.

"Asking for mercy is not a weakness," Mgr. Rebanal said. "Being able to forgive and ask for mercy yields greatness."

A Celebration of Unity and Hope
Children from the Barangay of the Virgin Youth Ministry in Livingston, New Jersey, performed the Philippines' national song and two traditional Filipino dances while the pilgrims shared a meal of Adobo chicken and rice, two Filipino staples.

The song "Magkaisa," which means "Unite," was penned during a time of chaos and dictatorship in the Philippines, when Filipino nuns and priests worked hand in hand with the people, led them in prayer, and guided them under one faith.

Children then preformed two Filipino dances, "Pandanggo sa llaw" or "Candle Dance" and "Tinikling" or "Bamboo Dance." The Bamboo Dance demonstrates flexibility and skill. Two people beat bamboo poles on the ground and against each other as dancers jump over and in between the poles. The Candle Dance demonstrates the grace of Filipino women, who hold votive candles aloft while they whirl to the music.

The festivities were followed by an opportunity for Confession and the praying of the Rosary at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine. The pilgrims prayed together for lost souls and the sick, and they gave thanks for miracles they've witnessed in their own lives.

Sonny Tiongson and wife Amy Tiongson, members of the Barangay of the Virgin, have journeyed to the Shrine for Filipino Heritage Day every year since the event's inception. The two grateful pilgrims annually worship at the Shrine in thanksgiving for the life of their daughter, who was nearly killed in a head-on collision motorcycle accident years ago.

"The doctors said there was no hope, she had one hour to live," Tiongson said. "I prayed and she woke up. It was a miracle."

A Preparation for the Jubilee Year
A Votive Mass was held at the outdoor shrine that emphasized a preparation for the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which was declared by Pope Francis and begins on Dec. 8. Father Anthony Gramlich, MIC, led the Mass with concelebrants Mgr. Rebanal, Rev. Roy Regaspi, and Fr. Ed Jocson, who gave the homily.

Father Jocson, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Linden, New Jersey, said it was a time for the Church to be a sign and an instrument of the mercy of God.

"The holy year is dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which God constantly extends to all of us," Fr. Jocson said. He outlined Pope Francis' three points that elaborate the theological understanding of the meaning of God and the role of the Jubilee Year.

The pope's first theme explained the role of mercy in the life of people and of the Church who are both beneficiaries and witnesses to God's mercy in the world.

"Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy," Fr. Jocson said.

As a second theme, the pope offered practical ways to live well the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The faithful should go on a pilgrimage as an impetus to conversion. They should not judge or condemn, but give and forgive, avoiding gossip, envy, and jealousy. They should open their hearts to the fringes of society and bring consolation, mercy, and solidarity to people who live in precarious situations.

As a third theme, the pope issued particular calls for justice and conversion. He asks members of criminal organizations and those involved in corruption to change their lives and to embrace the mercy of God. He also notes that both Judaism and Islam consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes. The pope expressed trust that this Jubilee will foster an encounter with these other religions and eliminate every form of close-mindedness and disrespect and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.

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