Filipino Catholics remember the dead by celebrating Undas

By Estefania Aguirre

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Thousands walk to the North Cemetery in Manila to observe All Saints Day, Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: Roy Lagarde-CBCPMedia.

Filipino Catholics are gathering in cemeteries Nov. 1-2 to pay their respects to those who have passed away, but those who are overseas can now also celebrate by visiting ''Undas Online.''

“This is primarily intended for oversees working Filipinos and seafarers who will find it hard to celebrate Undas,” said Monsignor Pedro Quitorio of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.

“Filipinos in the country are encouraged to visit cemeteries, oratories and churches,” the bishops’ media office director explained.

In the Philippines, All Saints Day is known as ''Undas," which is believed to come either from the Spanish word ''andas'' (you walk) or possibly ''honra'' (honor), which was adopted when the country was part of Spain's empire.

Entire families traditionally celebrate the feast by camping in cemeteries and often spend the night near relatives' tombs playing card games, singing and dancing. Tombs are also cleaned or repainted, flowers are offered and candles are lit. 

The vigils also feature hot chocolate and 'biko', a sticky rice that is cooked with coconut cream and sugar that is typically prepared for All Saints and All Souls Day.

Filipinos consider Undas their third most important holiday, after Christmas and Easter, and employers usually give their workers additional time off for the festivities. 

For those Filipinos who lived abroad and cannot celebrate the feast in the usual way, the bishops’ conference has re-launched, adding podcasts that provide a catechesis of the significance and liturgical meaning of the celebration of November 1 and 2.

Msgr. Quitorio said Filipinos away from home can also request for prayers and Masses for their beloved dead.

All they need to do, he said, is visit the website, click “prayer request” and list the names of the dead for whom they wish to offer Mass.

The requests will be presented at Masses celebrated by the bishops’ conference from November 1-8.

The revamp of the site comes after Filipinos made prayer requests for over 20,000 dead during the 2011 inaugural year.

For those living abroad, celebrating Undas can be a bit of a challenge.

Melody Buhian – Solovko, a Filipino married to a Russian and living in the city of Khabarovsk, told CBCP News that she attends Mass in her parish every All Souls Day.

She said an average of 10 to 15 people turn up for the short prayer in the local cemetery, and that Russians are not keen on remembering the dead or honoring the saints.

Geraldine Jacob, a domestic helper in Moscow, said her boss does not allow her to go into the city center, making it difficult for her to attend Mass.

Jacob, who has been in Russia for over a year, said she prays the Rosary for those who have died and were special to her.

The Philippines, one of the world's countries with largest number of practicing Catholics, has a population of over 92 million people with 80 percent Catholics.

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