Singing for the Lord
After the celebration of the Eucharist at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Suva, Fiji one Sunday morning, a few of us were exchanging pleasantries near the main door of the Cathedral when Fr Iosefo Tuvere came to say 'hello.' The president of the Filipino Community in Fiji, Mrs Josie Reardon was also with us. Fr Tuvere seized the opportunity, inviting us - the Filipinos - to lead the singing at the celebration of the Eucharist at the Cathedral.
If the invitation came quickly, Tita Josie's response was even quicker. Without any hesitation, she said 'yes.' I was surprised at how fast it all happened, and I was overwhelmed at the thought of us Filipinos leading the singing at Mass and the preparation that will be needed.
The news was greeted with a lot of excitement by the Filipinos. We have been in Fiji for nearly 30 years but it seemed like this was the first time that we had been invited to lead the singing at the Cathedral on a Sunday; we were grateful to Fr Tuvere for this opportunity.
Choosing the hymns was one big challenge. We come from different parts of the Philippines and our hymns, in our dialects, are very different from each other. We had to a pick hymns and arrangements that most of us would know.
The first choir practice was set after the 10:00 am Sunday Mass at the Cathedral and about 25 people came. We discovered among us a good guitarist, Raul, who lectures at the Fiji Institute of Technology. It was a promising start. Then the Tablate family volunteered to prepare a video presentation on the Philippines. This was encouraging.
The following Sunday, we had an even bigger group for our second choir practice. Some began to recall their experiences as members of the Legion of Mary, Charismatic, Couples for Christ; others were sharing their stories when, in their younger years, they were choir members. As I listened to their stories, I could understand their sense of pride and joy for these were experiences of faith, experiences of God.
The size of our choir was getting bigger and thanks to Tita Josie's perseverance, we have found another excellent guitarist, Fred, and a good keyboard player, Jeff. Both were engineers working on the construction of the new US embassy.
We chose people to read, lead the Prayers of the Faithful and participate in the offertory procession. We agreed that the children would bring our offerings.
I had been in Fiji for seven years and I had been involved in Eucharistic preparations in Fijian, Hindi and English. I noticed that I was having some 'strange' feelings. My excitement was tempered with some anxiety. I realised that it was the first time I was working with my fellow Filipinos in the preparation of the Eucharist.
On that Sunday morning I arrived at the Cathedral, with mixed feelings of confidence and fear. I felt nostalgic when I saw my fellow Filipinos, resplendent in our national costumes – the barong for men and the kimona for women. The 30 minute period before the Mass was a frantic time for us, but we had designed a 'game plan' the night before, during our final choir practice. Everything went as planned.
As the first note of the Entrance Hymn – Purihin ang Panginoon (Praise the Lord) was played, I felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude. The anxiety and the fear vanished and it became a moment to be enjoyed.
Fr Tuvere started the Eucharist by praying the Sign of the Cross in Filipino! I felt so inspired. And as the celebration of the Eucharist moved on and as we sang one hymn after another, our energy and emotions were getting higher and higher. As the last picture of the presentation on the Philippines was shown, and as I heard the applause from the congregation, I felt a deep sense of gratitude to God and to my fellow Filipinos for this moment of grace.
I hope that our presence gave witness to who we are as a people, a people always hoping and trusting in the goodness of the Lord. I hope that our presence also gave witness to our faith, inspired by the life of San Lorenzo de Manila, the only Filipino saint.
I realised that the two months of preparations had kept us united as a people who are away from home and our loved ones, and have only our faith and each other for comfort and strength. We were there - construction workers, those in the plastic, garment and fishing industries, housekeepers, lecturers, IT specialists, consultants, engineers, doctors, nurses and housekeepers.
It will take me sometime to get over the feeling. It made me feel proud of who I am as a Filipina Columban Lay Missionary. And yes, it makes me feel proud of my fellow Filipinos in Fiji!
Rowena Cuanico is now the Columban Lay Missionary co-ordinator in the Philippines.