By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — Filipinos are a constant presence in south central Iowa. “Many work at Cargill Corn Milling (near Ottumwa), others work as medical professionals,” said Father Joseph Sia, a native of the Philippines and pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction.
The idea for a Filipino Mass emerged last winter when Fr. Sia was enjoying a Christmas dinner with fellow priest Father Jim Betzen, pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish-Ottumwa. They talked about the possibility of Fr. Sia celebrating a Filipino Mass in Ottumwa to offer Filipino Catholics in the area an opportunity to celebrate their faith and culture. Fr. Sia had celebrated Filipino Masses in Davenport, but never before in Ottumwa.
As it turned out, they weren’t the only ones with a Filipino Mass on their minds. Fr. Betzen recalled, “About the beginning of the year, some of the Filipinos asked me if they could have a Mass at St. Mary of the Visitation.” He set a date of April 9 for Fr. Sia to come to Ottumwa to celebrate Mass.
The Mass was celebrated in Tagalog, the national language and one of two official languages of the Philippines. However, the homily was bilingual and the closing hymn was in English. In the weeks leading up to the Mass, Filipinos in the area practiced singing Tagalog hymns. They also helped spread word of the Mass to Filipinos in Fairfield, Albia, Oskaloosa and Pella.
About 70 Catholics attended Mass, where Filipinos young and old dressed in native clothing. Several Anglo and Mexican-American Catholics also came to celebrate Mass. Afterwards, Mass-goers enjoyed native dishes and a display of Filipino items.
Organizers hope to have a Filipino Mass again soon, either in Albia or Fairfield. Fr. Sia said, “I hope this event allows for the Filipino community to grow stronger in their Catholic identity. In my homily, I encouraged them to learn more about their faith and to fall in love with Jesus Christ. I also hope that it strengthened their ties of friend