About 50 people gathered at the Pastoral Center in St. Cloud April 2 to celebrate the feast day of San Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino saint canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
This event, which included Mass, a potluck meal, singing, dancing and a presentation about the Philippines, was sponsored in part by the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries.
“It’s a joy for me to celebrate this feast day with you,” Bishop Donald Kettler told the crowd following the Mass, which was concelebrated by retired priest Father Tony Kroll, Crosier Father Ernie Martello and Father Alphonsus Ihuoma, chaplain at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. “It’s great to get together. [Many people] aren’t aware that communities like this exist until you do something like this.”
The inspiration for celebrating the feast of San Pedro Calungsod — a teenaged Philippine catechist who was martyred in 1672 — came from meetings between Mayuli Bales, diocesan director of multicultural ministries, Crosier Brother Alex Juguilon and the St. Cloud Fil-Am Community.
The organization, which is about 10 years old, typically comes together for a summer picnic and again at Christmastime.
“We wanted to add a religious aspect, to bring people together because of their faith,” said Brother Alex, who was born in the Philippines and grew up in Ohio. He works closely with Bales to develop the relationship with Filipino Catholics around the diocese.
Like Pope Francis, Bishop Kettler is “very interested in recognizing that we are one body and a Universal Church, welcoming the strangers among us by providing pastoral care in the cultural context in which the Good News is proclaimed,” Bales said.
“The invitation to the Filipino community to discover each person’s story with God as told in language, symbols, traditions and expressions of faith is part of [the] bishop’s agenda,” she said. “As we embrace the different ethnic communities, we can build a strong, vibrant and diverse diocese.”
Faith and friendship
Merlyn Simon, a native Filipino, attended the April event with her husband, Harold, daughter, Jada, 10, and son, Harrison, 1.
Merlyn met Harold online and moved to the United States about 13 years ago. She works as a nurse at the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. The Simon family lives in Sauk Rapids and attends St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell.
“I think it is important for the [Filipino] community to get together like this. Culturally, we usually get together to celebrate these festivals in my country. It is very big to us,” Merlyn said.
She invited her friend Fay Gunderson to attend the celebration. Gunderson and her husband, Brad, also work at the VA and are parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids.
“I work with Merlyn and when she invited me, I was so honored,” Fay said. “It is such a privilege to be here. We’ve only known each other a few months but we have formed such a strong connection. She’s my friend and I want to love and support her.”
The Gundersons were present at Bishop Kettler’s installation, representing the City of Sauk Rapids, where Brad serves as mayor.
“We wanted to be there to welcome him,” Fay said. She hopes that the Filipino community feels that same sense of hospitality. “It’s important that everybody feels welcomed,” she said.
Cha Hanauska, a member of the St. Cloud Fil-Am Community organization, gave a presentation on the Philippines, discussing its flag, geography, history, economy, government and traditions.
Afterward, she and several Filipino women engaged the crowd with a traditional Sinulog dance wearing bright colored costumes and waving flowers, candles and a statue of the Santo Niño, or baby Jesus.
One of the dancers was Welly Rotter, who moved to St. Cloud from the Philippines in 2014. She and her husband, Donald, are members of St. Augustine Parish in St. Cloud, where the two enjoy volunteering for breakfasts, fish fries and helping keep the church clean. They also volunteer at St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud.
“It’s really important to know that there are others like me in St. Cloud and neighboring cities,” Welly said. “It’s a good way for us to make friends.”