Father Daguplo, pastor of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, and faithful from the Filipino community join in the 2018 Santacruzan Festival held on the parish grounds. In 2019, there will be two celebrations in Hamilton and Toms River. Monitor file photo
Father Daguplo, pastor of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, and faithful from the Filipino community join in the 2018 Santacruzan Festival held on the parish grounds. In 2019, there will be two celebrations in Hamilton and Toms River. Monitor file photo

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

Santacruzan, the traditional Filipino celebration of the Blessed Mother, is spreading through the Diocese of Trenton, as people of Filipino decent and the wider community embrace the Marian devotion with outdoor processions and prayers.

Two events are planned in the Diocese this year for May 18: the eighth annual Santacruzan in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, 3500 South Broad St., Hamilton, and the first annual Santacruzan in St. Luke Parish, 1674 Old Freehold Rd., Toms River.

The Santacruzan in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish will begin with Mass at 1:30 p.m.; Father Augusto Gamalo, parochial vicar in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, will be the main celebrant; Father Gene Daguplo, pastor  of St. Raphael-Holy Angels, and Father Leandro Dela Cruz, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, will concelebrate. Mass will be followed by a 3 p.m. procession at designated routes, and a 4 p.m. dinner and dance reception in the parish center.

In St. Luke Parish, the Santacruzan will begin at 2 p.m. with a procession on church grounds. Mass will follow at 4 p.m. in St. Luke Church, with St. Luke pastor Father Robert Grodnicki as main celebrant, and Father Alex Enriquez, administrator of St. Monica Parish, Jackson, as concelebrant. The festivities will continue with fellowship and food afterwards in the parish’s social hall.

Santacruzan is the culmination of the month-long Filipino celebration “Flores de Mayo,” or “Flowers of May,” honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary. An historical religious celebration in the Philippines, it commemorates the search for the True Cross by Queen Helena and her son, Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Processions serve as a reenactment of the Cross’s finding, led by “Sagalas” (beautiful Filipina women) representing queens and other titles of Mary, and the “Reyna Elena,” who represents Queen Helena.

Norma MCoy-Heller, secretary of the St. Raphael-Holy Angels Filipino Community and chair of the parish’s Santacruzan Committee 2019, remarked that the community’s Santacruzan celebration aims to raise funds to support various charitable causes, most notably an orphanage in the Philippines, and the Filipino poor who are regularly victims of floods and other calamities.

“To put it in perspective,” McCoy-Heller said, “$100 will provide 20 pairs of shoes; $250 will provide 30 meals for school children in Metro Manila; $500 will provide medicine and supplies to impoverished villages, and $1,000 will provide a week’s food supply and shelter for at least five Filipino families.”

Participants, she continued, include the Filipino families in other nearby Mercer County parishes – St. Gregory the Great; St. Ann; St. David the King, Princeton Junction; St. Paul, Princeton; St. Anthony of Padua, Hightstown; St. Vincent de Paul, Yardville, and Sacred Heart, Trenton.

Santacruzan fundraising that benefitted SRHA Parish last year, McCoy-Heller noted, included maintenance of the community’s prayer garden; beautification of St. Raphael School; the Way of the Cross construction, and activities like the monthly Filipino Mass and Simbang Gabi.

Rica Tonog, volunteer for the Filipino-American Community Development center, Inc. (FCDC) in Ocean County, said that the group’s first annual Santacruzan was inspired by a larger celebration in Jersey City.

“Our board member Jocelyn Babuschak attended the Jersey City one – her daughter participated,” Tonog explained. “She proposed to our group that we start one here. Most of us experienced Santacruzan only as little girls in the Philippines.”

The event is also a pilot project of the FCDC’s cultural school, Filipino-American Cultural Enrichment School (FACES), which teaches Filipino culture, music and arts. The Toms River school currently has 35 children, from ages pre-k to 14. Children of the school will participate in the procession as Sagalas and Regalas.

“There will be a class before the event so the children will learn the significance, and how it gives honor to the Blessed Mother,” Tonog said. “Parents are very committed to this project, building the 18 [flower] arches as early as last month.” She noted that a few parent volunteers, notably Dr. Jess and Jasmine Alcid of St. Luke’s, constructed the bowers that the children will process underneath.

“The children are encouraged to make a difference in the community,” Tonog said. “They have a community garden, and donate the food to pantries in the area.”

Tonog said that the FCDC, which encompasses the Filipino community in Toms River parishes of St. Luke, St. Joseph, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Justin the Martyr, is excited “because all the kids will be immersed in historical and religious tradition for the first time. We are grateful for this opportunity, and hopefully we will celebrate it each year.”

Cost to attend the St. Luke Santacruzan is free of charge. For more information, visit fcdcnj.org. Cost to attend the St. Raphael-Holy Angels Santacruzan is $30 for adults and children 12 and over, with proceeds going toward the community’s charitable works. For more information, email SRHA Filipino Community coordinator Jay Janolo, JayJanolo12@gmail.com