“WHY not a regular Tagalog Mass here at the Transfiguration of Our Lord Church?…To feed the deep spiritual thirst and hunger in the hearts of Filipino-Americans and Filipino expatriates residing in Chicago and its suburbs and their pastoral needs waiting to be addressed. A regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Tagalog could be a concrete step towards responding to those needs.” – Chicago Church Bulletin of Tagalog Mass and Novena for San Lorenzo Ruiz, 2000.
Fr. Robert raised the philosophically relevant question. The answer became the Tagalog Mass in Chicago, which is an 11-year-old practice now, a budding teenager, as one would say. This evangelical growing and deeply Eucharistic practice was started by Filipino-Americans in Chicago, led by Rev. Fr. Roberto Florido.
He kept raising the question, until the answers led folks to learn about the rich, cultural roots of Chicago’s 335 years of Catholic history. Their Tagalog Mass bulletin describes the city’s remarkable Catholic ethnic diversity, starting with the First Americans, the Native Americas, followed by the Irish, German, Polish, Canadian, Hungarian, Dutch and Belgian. A new century brought in worshippers of African Americans, Lithuanian, Bohemian, Slovak descent, with Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Chinese and Spanish forming the successive waves of devotees. Their Catholicism has aspects of deep Eucharistic focus and Marian devotion, nurtured even more so by saying masses in different languages: English, Spanish, Tagalog and Polish.
He worked with a group of Filipino-Americans for a decade, and through his spiritual leadership and influence on strong cultural origins, he led the group towards the formation of the first Tagalog Mass that was celebrated at Transfiguration of Our Lord Church: the Sambahimig — a collection of Mass songs in Tagalog, including the Order of the Mass in Tagalog and the Novena to San Lorenzo Ruiz, supported by Father John Rudnick, then pastor of the parish. Sambahimig has now its second edition, with 325 pages.
Their website describes their historical, spiritual and organizational growth: “On Nov. 22, 2003, the Tagalog Mass Core group received the Award of Excellence in Religion from the Fil-Am TV Hall of Famers USA, presented by Secretary of State Jesse White and Consul Adelio Cruz. On mission Sunday 2007, the installation of all liturgical ministers was presided by Fr. Florido, and on the Solemnity of Christ the King, the members of the Core Group were inducted. On Feb. 17, 2008, the Chicago History Museum (CHM) sent some people to audio-record the Misang Tagalog at Transfiguration of Our Lord Church, as part of the Exhibit Catholic Chicago, in collaboration with exhibit curator Jill Grannan. The exhibit opened on March 8, 2008 and closed on January 5, 2009, with six sections, the Misang Tagalog at Transfiguration of Our Lord Church featured in two. In Worship in the City, the visitors could hear the Misang Tagalog choir singing Lorenzo Ruiz, Martir (music by B. Maramba; lyrics by Celso Carunungan) and Panalangin sa Pagbubukas Palad (music by Manuel Francisco and Jandi Arboleda; lyrics by T.M. Ofracio), as well as part of the sung Tagalog preface, while they viewed the architectural imagery and symbolism in the Chicago churches. It featured 47 oral history interviews, including Cardinal George, Rosemary Connely, Fr. Arturo Perez and Abigail Alysia Malvestuto.”
On June 6, 2010, their ten-year milestone was marked with a Thanksgiving Mass officiated by Bishop Oscar A. Solis, D.D., of Los Angeles and its visionary founder, Rev. Fr. Roberto Florido, with the Tagalog core group donating $10,000 in cash, 4 sets of green chasubles and stoles, purificators and, repair and refurbishing of the monstrance to the Transfiguration Church.
Fr. Roberto was born and raised in Lopez, Quezon. He got his moral calling at age 11, and entered the seminary of Mt. Carmel in Quezon. He completed his AB in Philosophy and his Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology in the University of Santo Tomas.
He was ordained by the late Bishop Guevarra on April 18, 1979. He was St. John the Baptist Church’s parochial vicar in Dinalupihan, Bataan for 2 years.
In May 1980, he joined his family in Chicago and started his ministry there. He stayed in two parishes: Our Lady of Ranson in Niles, Illinois and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Chicago. After these short parish ministries, he started working as chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital for ten years. This hospital later became a member of the Resurrection Health Care System merger.
During his ministry at St. Elizabeth, he was involved with the “Supportive Care Program” for long-term patients with AIDS-HIV, cancer and stroke. He learned the old ways of chaplaincy (administering sacraments) and the new ways of chaplaincy (where the entire department is professionalized with interfaith collaboration of rabbis, ministers and priests). He temporarily headed the newly-formed Pastoral Care Department for three years, while pursuing his clinical training in hospital chaplaincy, both basic and residency Training.
In 1990, he went back to the Diocese of Balanga, Bataan and served as Chaplain at Our Lady of Fatima Chaplaincy, in Bataan Export Processing Zone in Mariveles, Bataan. For almost ten years he served a diverse community (people coming from all over the Philippines and from other countries). “It was a very grace-filled years of serving the workers as well as those in the management level and factory owners”, he said.
By 2000, he went back to his first love of ministering to the sick and worked at Health Resurrection Health Care, based at St. Mary Medical Canter in Chicago. In 2007, VA Hospital in North Chicago opened its door for him to minister to the Veterans, which he fully embraced. By the Summer of 2011, he moved from windy Chicago to sunny California and he is now working as the chaplain of VA Hospital in Long Beach.
He witnessed how the raw wounds of war never left the veterans, that even after 40 years, their war experiences haunt them and continue to fragment their spirits and bodies, much like those from Iraq and Afghanistan.
I asked Fr. Robert how he empties his heart of all these painful stories of sufferings: he relies on his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, his interior joy (nourished by cooking and golf), and his active memberships in the Association of Catholic Chaplains and VA Chaplains’ Association, drawing from the collective wisdom of his professional colleagues and his equally serene and joyful priests/friends.
I interviewed him while visiting with his friend, Fr. Camilo Pacanza, who both watched the Tagalog play version of the Romance of Magno Rubio at Inside the Ford Theater, a play they found so beautiful in its rendition of hope and the human spirit’s optimism amidst adversity, a mirror perhaps of his current chaplaincy at the VA hospital.
One thing is certain, the indomitable, positive, optimistic human spirit is a choice and a decision! n