QUEENS VILLAGE — Every year from the time he was a teenager, Patrick Pakingan has counted down the days until the start of August. That’s when he would fly from New York to his hometown of Tanza in the Philippines, for the Fiesta Solemne de San Agustín de Tanza, a monthlong adoration of St. Augustine with daily novenas, parades, and prayer.
But not this year, because classes have already begun for Pakingan, 20, a third-year nursing student at Hunter College. He was forced to return home two weeks earlier than usual, and had to miss half of the festival and adoration — commonly referred to in the Philippines as Tata Usteng — that he’s treasured so much.
Pakingan was disappointed, but undaunted. Since he could not make it to all the fiestas in Tanza, he decided to help form a celebration of St. Augustine in his Queens parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, on Aug. 19.
“Not only do we celebrate our faith and this special connection to St. Augustine, but it also connects us to our cultural heritage,” Pakingan said. “If we forget to connect to our own heritage, it leads us to forget the past.”
Approximately 50 people, many of whom had a personal connection to the province of Cavite, where Tanza is located, joined one another at Our Lady of Lourdes for a Mass celebrated by Father Patrick Longalong. There was also a rosary and the observing and performing of Filipino traditions, including a devotional street dance called Karakol.
Thousands of devotees and pilgrims come to Tata Usteng in the Philippines every year. It started in 1727 when Augustine friars served in Tanza, and has since grown to encompass the entire Cavite province. Tata Usteng is believed to bring miracles to farmers in need of rain. One of the unique features of the festival, Pakingan explained, is that there are three sets of nine-day novenas throughout the month.
This year’s festival at Our Lady of Lourdes, called locally by its English name, Tanza Town Fiesta, was smaller in comparison to the Philippines event, but Pakingan and Father Longalong said they hoped next year’s Queens celebration of the life of St. Augustine will be larger and even better attended.
Shirley Figueroa, a native of Tanza, was elated when she discovered that Pakingan was looking to bring their Filipino traditional celebration to New York. Having previously served as a secretary for Father Longalong and the Filipino Apostolate, Figueroa has been promoting the intersection of her culture and faith for years, and was brought to tears during the festivities at Our Lady of Lourdes.
“We felt the passions of the Holy Spirit and of St. Augustine. I still get goosebumps. Everyone felt something,” she said. As a Filipino woman, Figueroa knows that her community within the Diocese of Brooklyn is proud to share the devotions from their locality as a way to evangelize.
She said she helped Pakingan organize the celebration, but, given his youth and passion, encouraged him to take the lead. Figueroa said she too hopes that the Tanza Town Fiesta will become an annual event.
Pakingan agreed, adding: “It gives that connection to the people. Even though they are thousands of miles away, they still have that connection to home.”