By: Amrylois Ferido
The Filipino community is well-known for many things, such as their talent, togetherness, and pride in who they are. However, there is one more thing to add to that list, the community’s unwavering devotion to God, specifically through their Catholic faith. This faith has become interwoven into the Filipino culture, where many gatherings exude unity and love for God and each other.
On the weekend of the 23rd in September 2023, many gathered for Mass in a celebration of faith. Mass is a time of worship in Catholicism as well as learning. Notably, this weekend was graced by the presence and teachings of a very well-known and inspirational person, Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
At the age of 25, Archbishop Socrates Villegas was ordained as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2001, he was then appointed Bishop and later in 2019, was made the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan. Many call him ‘Father Soc,’ which emphasizes his personable nature.
Throughout the weekend, one could feel the impact that Archbishop Socrates had on the audience, specifically through his homilies, which are a crucial part of Mass. These homilies were insightful and filled with words of motivation, leaving listeners eagerly wanting to hear more. While many of Archbishop Soc’s homilies can be found on YouTube via the following page: https://www.youtube.com/c/FatherSoc hearing his words in person is an impactful experience.
Those who attended Mass during this weekend were able to experience Archbishop Socrates’ motivation in person. He visited a total of three churches, where two major events of the Catholic faith were enthusiastically celebrated by all who attended. The atmosphere in each church was filled with enthusiasm, togetherness, and faith.
Who are you?
On Friday the 22nd, Archbishop Socrates made his first stop at the Incarnation Catholic Church in Glendale, CA. Here, he eloquently spoke about the theme of identity and who we are with God. The Mass itself was beautifully organized and anyone in attendance could feel the excitement exuding from attendees at the presence of Archbishop Soc.
Archbishop Socrates began his homily with an important question, “who are you?” This question is something that we often ask ourselves yet never truly always have an answer for. The rest of the homily was a response to this question, where Archbishop Soc first described the things that we should not define ourselves by.
Money, wealth, work, our mistakes, achievements, and even the words of others all act like baggage that weighs down the answer that Archbishop Socrates describes is what truly defines who a person is. “There is something more important than the question “who are you,” he communicated, instead encouraging attendees to ask the question of “To whom do you belong?”
“You belong to God,” Archbishop Soc answered, describing how while there were many women in the gospel who supported the Lord, only some of them were given names. He emphasized how the only identification they were given was that they were “belonging to Jesus.”
“Someday our names will be written on marble in memorial parks and cemeteries. And some day people will even forget our names. But I hope that forever we will always remember that I belong to God. And there is no other greater than God. There is no duty greater than God,” Archbishop Socrates remarked.
Speaking personally with Archbishop Socrates, one will immediately see why he is someone that inspires so many. On this day, I had the chance to speak with Archbishop Socrates himself, who spoke about why he decided to visit the US and his personal connection with Incarnation Catholic Church.
Archbishop Socrates described how he was invited by his close friend and former classmate Father Rodel Balagtas, who is the pastor of Incarnation Catholic Church. “After I accepted, he (Father Rodel) gave me work,” Archbishop Soc explained, alluding to two events he would be attending within the weekend. While he has already been to the US many times, this one was of course special due to being a request from a friend.
“We were classmates at San Carlos Seminary. We both finished a BA in Philosophy, which was a part of seminary formation,” Archbishop Soc detailed, expressing how even though they are on opposite sides of the world, their faith still connects them.
Likewise, Father Rodel also expressed his utmost sincerity and excitement about Archbishop Socrates’ presence. “His presence (Archbishop Socrates) is a blessing. The way he is with people, he exudes joy in his ministry. His homilies are so profound, and he’s well loved by people,” Father Rodel expressed.
“I am excited that he is here in the US. A lot of people know him, and they follow his YouTube homilies and Mass. He has impacted so many people in the Philippines,” he added, expressing only praise for his friend.
This impact is another aspect of Archbishop Socrates’ visit to the US. During our talk with one another, he expressed his admiration for the Catholic community within the US. “I appreciate the devotion of the Catholic community in the United States. Catholics in America are very sensitive to the works of charity and they’re very loyal to the teachings of the Catholic church. And they are very united. It is very inspiring for me, as an outsider I am blessed to see Catholicism in the United States.”
As many Catholics within the US are of the Filipino community, Archbishop Soc also had a message of encouragement for them specifically. “I want to assure the Filipino community that all is well with us. Not because of politics or economics. All is well with us because God is in the Philippines. And if God is with us, no one can ever be against us,” he communicated, reassuring that the Catholic faith is as strong as ever no matter where they may be.
Lessons from Saint Lorenzo Ruiz
The next stop for Archbishop Socrates was the St. Elisabeth of Hungary Church in Van Nuys, where a celebration and feast was held for San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila. The atmosphere in the church was lively and filled with togetherness that truly made the celebration shine with unity.
Togetherness is something that goes hand in hand with being Filipino, however, this unity extends beyond the community. This celebration was completely inclusive as while a majority of those in attendance were Filipino, there were many other attendees of other ethnicities. In the end, everyone gathered for the same reason, to worship God.
This was one of the lessons which Archbishop Socrates taught during his homily for this Mass. While the Mass was in celebration of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, Archbishop Soc reminded attendees of who brought them all together, God.
“Our reason for coming together is not the first Filipino Martyr. Our reason for coming together is to honor the king of martyrs. And our reason for coming together is Jesus Christ. No one else but Jesus,” Archbishop Socrates declared, highlighting how Saint Lorenzo Ruiz would express the same if he were present. His homily therefore centered around what Saint Lorenzo Ruiz’s life could instead teach everyone.
Saint Lorenzo Ruiz is an inspiration to those of the Catholic faith. His dedication and love for God is something that truly guides them. He is of both Filipino and Chinese descent and his parents were both devout Catholics. After being wrongly accused of a crime, he made his way to Japan for asylum. When in Japan however, a missionary he was a part of was arrested and tortured, with all of them eventually being put to death in the cruelest of ways. Before Lorenzo Ruiz died, he uttered the words “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept for God; had I a thousand lives, all these to Him shall I offer.” Now, he lives on as an example of complete devotion and belief in God that many Catholics, especially within the Filipino community, follow.
“What is Lorenzo Ruiz teaching us in 2023?” Archbishop Socrates asked attendees during his homily. “The first lesson of Lorenzo Ruiz is ‘I believe in God’,” he emphasized, detailing how even while Saint Lorenzo Ruiz was tortured and faced the most hardships, he still believed in God and stuck by his faith. “Please remember that when God calls you, he doesn’t say come follow me you will have an easy successful life from now on. He never said that” Archbishop Soc encouraged.
The second lesson Archbishop Socrates said that one can learn from Lorenzo Ruiz regards the soul. “I am a soul,” he declared, detailing how eventually our bodies will die and be corrupted but the soul is not destined for the same. “That’s why Lorenzo Ruiz was courageous, to even die one thousand times for the Lord, because the Japanese could only kill his body not his soul,” Archbishop Soc added. “Your soul should be more beautiful than your body. Your soul should be more beautiful than your face. Your soul should be more beautiful than everything about you, because your soul is destined for something greater. Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body because there are none who can kill the soul,” he explained.
“The third lesson we must remember is that ‘I believe in life everlasting.’ No matter how successful, how rich, and how powerful you are, there will come a time when life on Earth will be over and then the new life with Jesus, life everlasting, awaits us,” Archbishop Socrates affirmed. “The Lord did not die on the cross to give you long life because all long lives will end. The Lord died and raised from the dead in order to give you life everlasting. That is why Lorenzo lives until now, even though he was tortured and killed in Japan,” he explained, showing how Lorenzo is the example that many should follow, even in today’s times.
The Mass, including Archbishop Soc’s homily was beautifully done. There was a procession that involved all the different Catholic churches within the San Fernando region, which truly symbolized the togetherness of everyone there. They also had talented dancers who gracefully expressed their faith in their performance. Additionally, the choir sang passionately, encouraging attendees to sing as well. I could hear the voices of the choir blend with the voices of those sitting near me, who were just as passionate with their expression in song.
This entire event was put together by the St. Elisabeth of Hungary’s very own Music Director, Jun Corpin, who also happens to be the Chairman of San Lorenzo Ruiz Events of the San Fernando Region. I had the chance to speak with him about how this event came to be, as well as the excitement surrounding Archbishop Socrates’ visit to the church.
“We started from nothing. But after around 8 months of preparation, we’re here,” Corpin explained, additionally detailing the importance of the event. “St. Elisabeth of Hungary is the mother church of the valley. We are supposed to be the example,” he expressed, describing how each of the stained-glass windows within their church represents other churches throughout the valley.
“Every four years, we have the San Lorenzo Ruiz regional celebration for each region,” Corpin described, emphasizing how significant this event and time was for them as it is a representation of what unites the churches with one another, and that is the celebration of their faith. He also expressed gratitude in Archbishop Socrates’ visit, which was originally not planned. “It is very humbling that he passed by,” Corpin conveyed, emphasizing that while Archbishop Soc was not originally scheduled for their event, he made time, highlighting the dedication in which he has to his faith.
Corpin was not the only one who was excited about Archbishop Soc’s presence as Pastor Shinto Sebastian of St. Elisabeth of Hungary, also expressed his appreciation. “We really appreciate the presence of Archbishop Socrates Villegas. He gave an inspiring homily, inviting people to follow the good examples of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz,” Pastor Shinto conveyed, depicting the deep impact in which Archbishop Socrates’ words truly have on others.
A World in Need
On the last day of Archbishop Socrates’ journey here in the US, he made a stop once again at Incarnation Catholic Church. It was only fitting for the trip to end where it had first started. On this day, the church was filled with attendees all eager to hear more words from Archbishop Soc. During this Mass, they also had many young people involved, specifically in the choir. This was an inspiration to see, where many people of all ages can be seen to truly want to devote their time to God and celebrate their faith.
“The gospel is a description of our human situation,” he began, proposing a situation in which we ask one another how we are in our respective locations, the Philippines or the US. “Philippines or America, we will have the same problems. The first is, everybody in the world is in need,” Archbishop Soc expressed, explaining how there are three words that describe the problems in which both countries are facing. The three words are as follows: need, jealousy, and lastly complaining.
“For us back home in the Philippines, it is joblessness. In America, there is also a need. A need to have a more meaningful life, to have more purpose in life. A need to be driven in life,” he expressed. Archbishop Socrates then went on to explain how jealousy is another problem that has impacted the world.
“Jealousy, which is the fear that somebody will take somebody or something away from you. Jealousy is not envy. Envy is the feeling you have when you think what other people have should also be yours. Filipinos or Americans, it is common for all of us to be envious or jealous,” Archbishop Soc continued, emphasizing how no matter where one may come from, the same feelings of jealousy can arise.
The last word that Archbishop Socrates emphasized was ‘complaining.’ “There is almost an addiction to complaining. There is always something to protest about or be angry about. There is always something to fight against one another,” he declared. “We have become an angry world. We always find reasons to get angry, to complain, and to protest,” Archbishop Soc added before offering a solution to these problems.
“So, what is the antidote to these three diseases of the world?” Archbishop Soc communicated. “Say thank you. Be grateful. Because everything is a gift from God,” he proposed as the first antidote, emphasizing how saying thank you is just as meaningful as telling someone you love them.
Second, Archbishop Socrates expressed how it is also important to say ‘please.’ “Please is an act of respect. It is an act of reverence. Please recognizes that we are equal, that we are brothers and sisters. That no one is the boss but God alone,” he explained, emphasizing how while everyone may be unique, we are all equal in many of the struggles in which we face. Though there is a struggle, Archbishop Soc encourages that there is a solution, simply through this act of respect and kindness.
“The third antidote to the culture of anger, jealousy, and meaninglessness in lives, is to say, ‘I am sorry.’ To apologize and take responsibility for every action we have done,” he added, where he signified how a single word or action can go a long way in making the world a better place. “Say thank you. Say please. Say I am sorry. It is going to make your family better and this world better. Amen,” Archbishop Socrates concluded his homily, once again inspiring so many with his words.
Your Life: Is it Leading to God?
The final stop that Archbishop Socrates made during this trip was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Upon arrival, the church itself was magnificent, where the architecture alone would leave anyone stunned. Before making your way into the church itself, one is immediately surrounded by a rich history of the Catholic faith. When finally seated, one can only help but notice the beautiful organ on the wall accompanying all of the beautiful lights hanging from the ceiling. These lights illuminated the inside of the church, where one could truly see how momentous everything was. It was only fitting for the event that was to be held that day. The beautiful voices of the choir echoed loudly throughout the church, making every prayer and moment feel even more special and blessed.
The Mass that was held that day was in honor of the 67th Canonical Coronation Anniversary of the Virgen de los Remedios. Filipinos within the Catholic community are known truly by their love for Mary, the Mother of Christ. Through Mary, many have been guided on the right ways to live, especially in finding God. This event was therefore, once again, a celebration of unbreakable faith.
“The Lord is happy that we are here. Today we are happy because of the Virgin. Tomorrow, what will make you happy? Next week. Next month. What will be your reason for happiness?” Archbishop Socrates began his homily. He then told of a story from the gospel about laborers who were given a job by the Lord. They believed that the job was their gift from God and that is all that they saw. Yet in truth, the Lord was actually giving Himself to them, which is the ultimate blessing.
“When the Father asked Jesus how much He loves us. When the Father asked Jesus to make my people happy. Jesus did not only give us jobs, money, health, popularity, or success. What was given was Jesus himself,” Archbishop Soc explained, declaring how the only answer to the question of what makes us happy is God and no one else. The second question that Archbishop Socrates proposed to the audience is “what makes you afraid?”
“So, what makes you afraid? Is it getting sick? Getting old? Getting forgotten?” He expressed. “There should only be one thing that we must be afraid of, and it is sin because sin separates us from God. Yet what has happened to our lives? We have turned sin into a joke,” Archbishop Soc remarked to the audience, motivating them to see that being separated from God is the one thing that should frighten them of everything.
However, Archbishop Soc also encouraged audiences not to be afraid of asking God for forgiveness. “Do not be afraid to ask the Lord for forgiveness because the Lord knows anyways,” he declared, depicting the love in which the Lord has for his people. The third and final question in which Archbishop Socrates presented to attendees was: “where are you going?”
“When all the pilgrimages are done. When all the touring around the world is over. When all the jobs have been accomplished. Where do you really want to go?” He communicated, then detailing the one thing in which everyone should remember regarding their journey with God.
“Please remember we have only one destiny. We have only one dream, to go to heaven. Don’t do anything that will close the doors of heaven for you,” Archbishop Socrates added, suggesting that everyone follow the simple acronym “WWJD” or ‘What Would Jesus Do.’
“Where is your life leading you? If you ask the Virgin, there is only one answer, to God,” Archbishop Soc declared, asking for attendees to look to Mary as a reminder as she will help guide them to Jesus.
“If you are here, it is because somebody has been punished, although innocent, instead of you. Our devotion to the Virgin de los Remedios is a reminder for us that we have a mother who endured the cold of winter in order to give us remedy of our sickness, remedy of our wrongness. But that is not enough. When your turn comes to die for another person, do not hesitate, take courage, for love, for the Lord, for my beloved,” Archbishop Socrates explained, ending the homily with words that truly would last in the hearts of everyone in the church that day.
A Celebration of Faith
This weekend served as a reminder of the importance of faith and what it can do. At the start of the weekend, I personally did not know much about the Catholic faith and the many histories, stories, perseverance, and even culture that goes hand in hand with it. It was a blessing to meet Archbishop Socrates and listen to his words in person alongside many others in the Filipino community. Somehow, I also managed to learn more about myself as a Filipino and how culture and faith can come together in so many ways. These words are also something he hopes inspires the next generation of boys to follow in his footsteps of becoming a priest. Mary Help of Christians Theology Seminary is a good place to start as it is located in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan. For more information about the seminary, you can visit the following page: https://www.facebook.com/mhcts/.
The dedication in which Archbishop Socrates has to the Catholic Faith is significant and something that many others in the Filipino community truly do have. Seeing the unity at St. Elisabeth of Hungary, the history at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angel, and the dedication at Incarnation Catholic Church, all inspired me and surely inspired all of those in attendance at each Mass. One can truly see that there was a celebration of faith that happened, especially faith in God.