How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Typhoon Haiyan: Catholic faith buoys a Filipino-American community dealing with loss (PHOTOS)

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In the week since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Gilda Gacho of Laguna Niguel has been pulling out the rosary beads from her purse, praying for phone calls from her mother and brothers.

Her 30-year-old son, Laurence, describes himself as less religious. But he, too, has been turning to the Catholic faith for comfort.

“The past three days I’ve been going to the Mission Basilica” in San Juan Capistrano, Laurence Gacho said. “(My parents) think I’m going out and hanging out with friends.”

RELATEDTyphoon Haiyan: Updates and resources

Faith looms large in the Filipino-American community, where two-thirds of the population is Catholic.  No other Asian-American group except for Korean-Americans has a majority that identifies as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Catholic tradition among Filipino-Americans started with their forebears in the Philippines, where Catholicism was first introduced by Spanish missionaries in the 16th Century. Today, the Philippines is considered the third-largest Catholic country in the world, trailing only Mexico and Brazil.

With Southern California serving as home to the largest Filipino population in the U.S. - more than 825-thousand live in the area according to Pew research data - it’s no surprise that Catholic parishes are serving as hubs of community organizing and fundraising.

A large donation box sat prominently in the entrance to St. Philomena Catholic Church in Carson during a special Mass Wednesday night.

More than 500 Fillipino-Americans from across Southern California converged on the church to honor those who had died, and to pray for survivors.

“Let those who have died in this big tragedy in the Philippines may be welcomed into their eternal home with God in heaven,” Fr. Dem Bugayon told his congregation.

“Let those who survived those tragedies as well as all of us may look at this calamaties not just through our human eyes but through the perspective of God,” he added.  

After the service, people congregated in the parish hall to talk about fundraising efforts. Many felt heartened by Bugayon’s words.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said 26-year-old teacher Monica Arteche of Santa Monica. “You know that saying, 'When God closes the door, he opens a window'. So I’m hopeful.”

Her aunt, Yolanda Ramo, a commercial property manager from Silver Lake, said the typhoon’s destruction has raised questions for even the most faithful of Catholics.

“It crossed my mind the question to why, why us?” Ramo said. But, she added, “We know (the dead) are with the Lord, and in a happy place, a better place than where we are."

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles  plans to have a special collection at all Sunday masses at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, said spokeswoman Monica Valencia.

The archdiocese’s Filipino ministry has also drawn up a list of parishes, with plans to set up drop boxes for people to donate emergency items, such as clothing and canned food that will be shipped from a warehouse to the Philippines.

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