The primary intention of having a Philippine Mass at CDM was to bring the Filipinos together living in the vicinity to come once a month and build a community that can facilitate bonding and fellowship. Although there is already a well-attended regular Catholic Tagalog mass at the City Parish in Georgetown, most of the Filipinos living around this area and even from Butterworth would be given another option to attend a Tagalog mass once a month. It was also intended encourage those who were initially inhibited or discouraged to attend mass due to the distance or work schedule, to attend mass. Due proximity of the church, our weekend working Filipinos may be able to get permission for a short time off work to come by for the service. The journey of successfully carrying out the first Philippine Mass can best described under the phases of the Spark, the Fuel and the Fire.
The beginnings of the first Philippine Tagalog Mass held at the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) Penang on May 15 originated from a request from the parish priest, Fr. Martin Arlando for the Filipinos to come up with a choir to sing at the Migrant Mass last year. Initially, it was a one-time affair but Fr. Martin then challenged the Filipino Choir to continue to sing monthly. As part of the regular choir, he encouraged them to introduce one Filipino hymn in the regularly held English masses on Saturday or Sunday beginning January this year. After doing this at two masses, Fr Martin then challenged the Filipino Choir to proceed with a Philippine Tagalog mass. It seemed like a huge endeavor, knowing that it would required a lot of coordination and especially to get people to come forward. The Filipino Choir needed to learn and practice 13 hymns. It also meant that Fr. Martin, himself had to learn to speak some phrases in Tagalog. This was indeed a monumental task, not just for the Filipino volunteers but even for Father, a non-native Tagalog speaker with only two months of preparation.
With this intention, the husband and wife team of Melvin and Nix Juban who are the Philippine Choir leaders became busy signing up volunteers. They engaged with one of the Filipinos in the CDM Migrant Ministry, Carmena Olarte to contact existing Filipino mass goers at CDM. The choir Master, Gilbert Gomez helped work with the choir leaders and new ministry leaders to translate the English Mass to Tagalog. The challenge was not just in the translation but to integrate the present format into one that the Filipinos have been used to in the Philippines. It was important to get a good authentic balance that allowed the Filipino church goers to feel comfortable and be at home with the service. The role of bringing the mass liturgical sequence and translation as well as the slide preparations was done by Celine Mendoza with the help of the commentator and lector leader, Joanne Liampo. We were also blessed to have an experienced Mass Coordinator volunteer, Mardi Bayani who had just moved with her family to Penang, a few months back. Mardi who worked with the church Hospitality Ministry leaders, Anthonysamy and James Maria Selvam, to instruct the rest of volunteers on the entire mass ensemble.
A shuttle service was organized to provide transport for people wanting to come to the Tagalog mass. This information was spread from Filipino to Filipino through the social media such as the Filipinos in Penang Facebook group, inter-company WhatsApp/Viber groups and also at friendly parties and get-togethers.
On Mass day as many as 160 Filipinos from different walks of life came to CDM. A broad spectrum of Engineers, Office and Factory Workers, Call Center Technicians and Service Support Agents, IT executives, Household Carers, and Hospitality employees were among those who attended mass. There were also children that came with their working Filipino parents as well as those that are permanently residing here in and have married Malaysians. The mass readings, responses and hymns were done totally in Tagalog. As it was Pentecost, it was apt that Fr. Martin even learned in advance and delivered some of the priestly responses in Tagalog. At the Offertory, there were the typical Filipino family offering of gifts of fruit baskets and flowers. In addition, there was a special intention for all civil leaders throughout the world, especially for those in the Philippines, to be guided solely by concern for the common good of the people. Lastly, at the final blessing, teachers and nurses were raised and blessed as it was Teachers and Nurses Day. After the mass, the people gathered in Faustina Hall where they joined in the salu-salo (potbless) for lunch.
How to keep this monthly Philippine mass go on regularly will be one of the biggest challenge and continued opportunity for the Filipino community at CDM. Many great compliments and private messages were received about the choir and the lectors. A special acknowledgment and thanks was extended to Fr Martin’s effort to speak Tagalog. Some people mentioned that they felt that they were brought back home especially when they heard some of the familiar hymns. There is still a long way to go in ensuring our Filipino brothers and sisters’ faith keep on blazing and to encourage those who are lukewarm in faith to come back to church. It is hoped that this will continue to be a monthly affair to help the congregation at CDM be more familiarized with the mass sequence responses and hymns and make it more authentic. All in all, it was a blessed day filled with the Holy Spirit at CDM.
Much credit for the success of this mass was due to the support and guidance of Fr. Martin and the whole CDM community for welcoming us Filipinos and making us feel at home through their encouragement and assistance.
24th May, 2016