By Maria Paz Duarte | Correspondent
and Mary Morrell | Managing Editor
On a beautiful day in May, the month of Mary, the Filipino community of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, rejoiced for the first time in the age-old Philippine tradition of the Santacruzan celebration, an historic religious festival better known as the Festival of the Holy Cross.
The tradition, which was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish conquerors more than 15 decades ago, was named for Queen Helena, who with her son, Constantine the Great, is said to have found the Holy Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem.
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Held May 19 in St. Raphael Church, Hamilton, the celebration, which drew members of the Filipino community from across dioceses, began with Mass celebrated by Father Leandro Dela Cruz, parochial vicar in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish.
The Mass culminated three days of novena Masses in preparation for the celebration, and in keeping with the Filipino tradition of celebrating Santacruzan with another religious festival, “Flores de Mayo.” Translated as flowers of May, the festival is held the whole summer month of May to honor “Birheng Maria,” the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In his homily, Father Dela Cruz spoke to the congregation about the importance of bringing traditions to America to show new generations the meaning of being part of a community, and to teach them to remember their roots. Father Dela Cruz mentioned how essential faith is in bringing this tradition from generation to generation, and how important celebrations such as this are, where every detail is carefully attended to in the same way people have to care about one another. “God remains in us, when we believe in him, and an easy way to remember about the love of God is to love each other as the father loves us, because that’s what our Lord wants from us.” Father Dela Cruz stated.
The Mass culminated with the coronation of the Virgin Mary statue, and the beautiful sagalas, young women chosen as examples of feminine qualities and spirituality, singing along as they walked out of the church to start the next part of the celebration, the parade. The sagalas comprise the court of Reyna Elena (Queen Helena).
All the guests gathered together outside the church, while the three main queens of the Santacruzan – Reyna Elena, Reyna Emperatriz and Reyna de las Flores – lined up underneath a stunning arch decorated with flowers to start the procession that moved past the church and surrounding areas to finally finish in the community center for a dinner-dance celebration.
The dinner, which also served as a fund-raiser for poverty-stricken children in Manilla, drew more than 200 hundred people, including leading figures such as Hon. Mario L. de Leon Jr., General Consul of the Philippines, and John Bencivengo, Hamilton mayor, who had the honor of crowning the queens.
Charity Teves, selected as Reyna de la Paz (Queen of Peace), explained, “Over 150 now, the Filipinos still celebrate Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan in the Philippines and abroad, with fervent hope and devotion to the Mother of Christ. We bring the religious traditions with us anywhere we are in the world making sure that our veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary does not fade, and is passed on from generation to generation.
“Above all, this beautiful devotion unites every faithful in prayer and then becomes a witness to God’s message ‘where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.’ As always, our Catholic Church is united to Jesus through Mary.”
Alice Francisco, a parishioner from St. Cecilia Parish, South Brunswick, stressed that the Santacruzan celebration is a great way to show that Jesus is alive in the actions of his people.
Lucy Francisco from St. Vincent Parish, Chesterfield, added; “This tradition brought many memories to me. I can’t feel more rewarded today for being here and see how the new generation of Filipino-Americans take part in this and they enjoy it, that’s what makes me come all the way here to support the community of St. Raphael.”