Faye Arellano says that for Filipinos living overseas, faith is the most important thing that they carry with them. Pope Francis is expected to visit the Philippines, Asia’s most-Catholic nation, Jan. 15-19. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Papal visit a 'healing balm' to long-suffering Filipinos, says Canadian

  • January 14, 2015

The pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines, which culminates Jan. 18 at an outdoor Mass expected to draw more than four million people, is being dubbed as a “mercy and compassion visit,” said Faye Arellano of Toronto.

Like many of the 500,000 Filipinos living in Canada, Arellano intended to closely follow coverage of the Pope after he landed Jan. 15 in Manila. She is impressed that “he is primarily lending support and solidarity with those in the southern region of the Philippines,” an area still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

“I couldn’t be more excited for Filipinos, especially for those who have been directly and deeply affected by the ravages of the natural calamities,” she said. “It’s almost that Filipinos are being visited by the light to cast out the darkness of the devastation... Viva il Papa!”

The Pope’s visit will include a Jan. 17 trip to Tacloban, a region especially hard hit by Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people and destroyed countless homes and buildings. He will lunch at the archbishop’s residence with some 30 survivors of the typhoon, many of whom lost close relatives in the disaster. A day earlier, he was to meet in Manila with various families, including one led by its 100-year-old matriarch, accompanied by her great-great-grandchildren.

His trip will culminate in what is being called a “mega-Mass” on the same site where St. John Paul celebrated Mass for World Youth Day in 1995 before more than four million people — often described as the largest live crowd in history. That record may be broken by Francis, with some predictors anticipating up to five million people will pack Manila’s Rizal Park.

Faith is second nature “to most, if not all Filipinos,” especially those who were raised in the Philippines and grew up in a Catholic home, said Arellano.
“When we immigrate to Canada or elsewhere, faith is the one important thing that we bring with us, because we believe that it is the one constant realization of the things that we hope for,” she said.

“Even if the road may be difficult at times, we can be assured that with faith there is nothing that we cannot overcome. The suffering takes on a whole new meaning, and by faith we believe that the journey with God is always good for us. As I always tell my friends, ‘Faith is great.’ ”

Arellano, a Toronto legal assistant, was among a number of Catholic Filipinos in Canada and elsewhere who spoke about their strong faith, deep devotion to Mary and a focus on family ahead of the papal visit to their homeland.

Many also are looking ahead to the International Eucharistic Congress to be held in the Philippines in 2016.

“The Pope will be like a healing balm to a long-suffering people needing just that,” said Arellano, former head of the Live-in Caregiver’s Ministry at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Toronto.

More than 200,000 Filipinos live in the Greater Toronto Area, compared to 94,000 in Vancouver.

Lennie David, 77, and her husband left the Philippines for Canada in 1975, fleeing the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A member of the Vancouver Catholic Charismatic Renewal, she has led seminars across the country for more than 20 years.

She grew up in the Philippine province of Batangas, where nine out of 10 people are Catholic.

“Our province is really noted for being close to the good Lord and mother Mary,” she said.

David said Pope Francis’ visit to her homeland is “really a grace from the Lord and mother Mary.”

The Pope “has a big heart for the poor” and people in the Philippines are “very poor,” she said. “The mere fact he is going there — the people are very touched. He is not going there to be in the limelight of society and government officials. He is really focusing on visiting the poor.”

Norma and Nick Borja, members of St. Paul parish in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, were accountants before going to work full-time for Couples for Christ Canada. The couple, both in their mid-60s, have travelled as Couples for Christ missionaries to several countries and across Canada. Nick Borja said wherever they go, local clergy always tell them that Filipinos “are the ones who give life to the Church, give vibrancy to the Church.”

Norma Borja said she was “very blessed to have grown up in a family that was very Catholic,” and she has “brought that faith with me all these years.”
Arcie Lim, 60, is involved with his parish council, teaches Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults classes, is a lector, belongs to the Knights of Columbus and serves on the Vancouver Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.

Filipinos’ faith is “passed on from one generation to another ... because of strong family,” he said. “It does not disappear even when young people go to college, to other countries — the link is always there.”

An accountant and comptroller, who belongs to St. Joseph parish in Vancouver, Lim says, “My faith is what makes me.”

“It is my central source of strength, inspiration. It’s like a beacon of light for me, makes me want to strive for the best, to love. Without my faith I can’t (do anything). It keeps me grounded, gives me spiritual nourishment.”

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