Filipinos: spreading faith, at home and abroad

A woman prays while waiting to take Communion during a Jan. 27 fellowship night between 51st International Eucharistic Congress delegates and parishioners of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

A woman prays while waiting to take Communion during a Jan. 27 fellowship night between 51st International Eucharistic Congress delegates and parishioners of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

CEBU, Philippines — Throughout the week at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, speakers have expressed how much Filipinos’ deep faith has struck them.

Cabbies play radio stations broadcasting religious messages: Bible verses, catechism and prayers. If they’re not listening to it, they’re talking about it.

Today a cabdriver kissed the cross on a rosary hanging from his rearview mirror and prayed the 3 p.m. prayer being broadcast. The other day, a different cab driver asked me what the congress what about and whether he could attend some sessions.

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron chats with Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu, Philippines, right, as Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergary of Pasig, Philippines, looks on before a Jan. 26 news conference at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron chats with Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu, Philippines, right, as Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergary of Pasig, Philippines, looks on before a Jan. 26 news conference at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. (CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron said Filipinos — whose country is 82 percent Catholic — are now doing what the Irish did when they spread Christianity across Europe a few centuries after it started. And, he added, having them in the U.S. is helping keep the church alive.

But Filipinos don’t go overseas with the intention of being missionaries. They usually end up simply practicing their faith when they arrive in countries where they find better-paying jobs than what they could find at home.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, said it was “a concern” that, like in his country, people have to go abroad to find decent employment.

“Although it’s a difficulty, it’s a grace of God,” he said. “I wish to tell Filipinos that … I want to encourage them as migrants to go to other parts of the world … especially with the view of giving good news to other people.”

That “good news” was very much present to Marianne Servaas, a Belgian who lived in the Philippines for seven years, working with an evangelical student organization.

As she spoke to the packed pavilion of delegates from 71 countries about her conversion to Catholicism while living here, she said, “The way Christ is present in you (Filipinos) is almost touchable. You opened my heart to receive joy in life itself, and more so your joy is related to thankfulness and humility. Please do not lose it … in your joy you are more human. And it is a gift to the world.”

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