Santacruzan, a religious-historical pageant that dates back nearly two centuries, was celebrated May 12 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Father Joel Henson, director of students at St. John’s Seminary, presided at the event, coordinated by the Filipino Ministry of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. 

Santacruzan commemorates the search of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena (Reyna Elena) and her son, the newly-converted conqueror Constantine. After the Holy Cross was found in Jerusalem and brought back to Rome, a joyful celebration of thanksgiving was held. 

Nine days of novena in honor of the Holy Cross precedes Santacruzan. The festival was introduced by the Spanish conquistadores in the Philippines in the 1800s and has since become part of Filipino traditions identified with the youth and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

The Cathedral event included a pre-liturgy procession with participants portraying the holy people of the Old Testament who believed and waited for the coming of the Messiah, the significant women of the New Testament, the symbols of Christian faith and various titles attributed to our Blessed Virgin. 

The “Hermana mayores” (or lead sponsors of Santacruzan) process after the image of Our Lady of Fatima and are the first to offer flowers to the Blessed Mother. The “Hermanas” are the partners of the Filipino Ministry in sustaining this tradition and in passing on this Marian devotion and spirituality to youth. Several images of the Blessed Virgin were also in the procession. 

The event was supported by various Filipino communities, religious and civic organizations, and government and business institutions. This tradition is well-celebrated in the month of May not only in the Philippines but also in different parts of the world where a great number of Filipinos practice their devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

In preparation for the event, a faith formation day was held April 2, at Our Lady of Peace Church, North Hills, to educate our youth in the roles they portrayed on the day of Santacruzan. This year’s event emphasized the youth’s active participation in embracing a cultural tradition that is strongly tied with Marian devotion. Under the direction of devotion sector leader Jane Sonoda, the youth led the recitation of the rosary. 

Afterwards, many students expressed their thoughts on why they wanted to play a specific role in the procession. 

Kristen Cobarrubias, a sophomore at Holy Family High School in Glendale and a parishioner at St. Dominic Church, Eagle Rock, participated for the first time. Born and raised in the U.S., she said, “I am learning through my parents the importance of recognizing not only the cultural tradition that they were brought up with but also the Catholic identity that this Filipino tradition and other traditions represent. I recognized why my parents are so grounded in their faith.”

At the workshop, participants were asked what characters they might portray. Cobarrubias wanted to portray “Reyna Caridad” (Queen of Charity), because “this virtue represents the person to be the most giving; placing God first above all things that loving our neighbors as ourselves is foremost.”

Yet she ended up representing “Reyna Abogada” (Queen of Law), “which made me reflect that Jesus Christ had many teachings in reference to social justice and fairness for all. I realized that there’s more to know about my faith.” 

Out of the 34 reynas (queens), three of them led the procession:

---Reyna Elena (Queen Helena) was played by Melanie Mendoza from Loyola Marymount University and a parishioner of Our Mother of Good Counsel Church, Los Angeles. 

---Megan Tiu from Our Lady of the Valley Church, Canoga Park, played Reyna Emperatriz (Empress).

---Jessica Clemente of St. Genevieve Church, Panorama City, played the role of Reyna De Las Flores (Queen of Flowers). 

The young participants expressed gratitude to their parents for bringing them closer to their relationship with Jesus through the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother, said Jo Solomonson, secretary of the Leadership Council for Filipino Ministry. The selection of this year’s participants was based on their active involvement in their parish and school communities as lectors, choir members and involved in youth ministry. 

“Santacruzan is not a beauty pageant,” explained Solomonson. “It is a religious cultural tradition that portrays the Blessed Mother as the Queen of all queens, the greatest woman of all.” 

The younger participants who portrayed the role of angels “were all happy and excited to be part of the procession,” she added. Wearing costumes complete with halos and wings, “they truly played their role well — joyful, smiling and peaceful.” 

The liturgical music was led by Joemari and Ning Manahan from St. Joseph Church, Pomona, and the choir was conducted by Tom Makiling from Holy Family Church, Glendale. The choir is composed of the members from the University of the Philippines Concert Chorale Alumni; St. Denis Church, Diamond Bar; and Holy Family.

Santacruzan 2012 proved to be a strong Filipino cultural tradition that connects the youth to be closer to their faith; it serves as an avenue that reaches the young and old who are searching for meaning in their Catholic identity.

As part of Santacruzan culminating activities, a Dinner Dance in honor of all participants and a Priests’ Concert “Tawag Sa Pagkakaisa 2012 (Call To Unity) will be held on June 30, at Quiet Cannon in Montebello.

For more information on Tawag Sa Pagkakaisa 2012, call Fr. Albert Avenido, moderator, (213) 587-2226; Patty Santiago, (818) 362-4864; Ging Mangaliman, (213) 453-2595; or Jo Solomonson, (626) 627-6672.

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