The church has also welcomed people from Iraq and Syria who came to Tasmania as refugees. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
In a church in Hobart’s outer northern suburbs, the walls echo with the sounds of Philippine hymns and Christmas carols.
- Hobart’s Philippine community is inviting other cultures to take part in its Christmas celebrations
- One refugee family has been coming to the church since the first week it arrived in Tasmania
- The mass is followed by a community meal with traditional Philippine food
Hundreds of parishioners are attending evening mass at Saint Paul’s Catholic Church in Bridgewater for the ninth night in a row, in emulation of a Philippine tradition in the lead-up to Christmas.
Parishioner Florence Parker helped organise the masses, called Simbang Gabi — Philippine for Night Mass — and said the tradition had been tweaked to suit Australian families.
“In the Philippines, it’s actually done at dawn, which is four o’clock in the morning, but obviously we have to adapt to the culture and the people here in Tasmania, so we’re doing it at night time,” she said.
The mass includes readings in Tagalog, Arabic and English, and traditional Philippine devotions including mass-goers kissing a statue of baby Jesus.
Hobart’s Philippine community has flocked to Saint Paul’s since the arrival of Father Leodigario “Leo” Zenarosa about four years ago.
“This parish has the first Filipino [priest] here in Southern Tasmania, so we like to support our own, and also it’s nice to be able to have a gathering with all Filipinos,” Ms Parker said.
Rosebel Macleod is the matriarch of a blended Philippine and Australian family and said she liked Saint Paul’s because it embraced her heritage.
“Because of Filipino culture here and all the families in here, we love the kids learning about the culture that we bring from the Philippines here,” she said.
Nashwan Matloob and his family have been coming to the church since they arrived in Tasmania. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
The church has also welcomed families from Iraq and Syria who came to Tasmania as refugees, many of them initially settling in nearby Pontville.
Nashwan Matloob and his family fled Mosul in northern Iraq three years ago to escape persecution by Islamic State.
The family has been coming to Saint Paul’s since the first week it arrived in Tasmania, and enjoys the friendly atmosphere.
“All of them are good and helpful,” Mr Matloob said.
“Sometimes we need something we can’t understand, they can explain for us.”
At the church service, Mr Matloob is giving a reading in Arabic. Two of his daughters are altar servers.
“I feel a little bit proud about this,” he said.
“It’s not our country, but when we see the people and talk with the people, Christian or not Christian, we feel relaxed.”
The church’s choir perform hymns and Christmas carols in English and Tagalog. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
Cultures unite for Christmas
A few years ago, Saint Paul’s struggled to attract many people to mass on Sunday.
Pam Clark has been coming to the church for 25 years and has witnessed a dramatic turnaround since Father Leo arrived.
“Father Leo is a very evangelising priest, he doorknocks, he does everything he can to get people back to the church, so there’s been a big change that way,” she said.
Father Leo credits prayer for the full pews, but admits he has also put in a lot of legwork introducing himself to local people.
“I have a short dialogue with them, you know, if you need something from the church, I’m Father Leo, spiritual things, I’m always available,” he said.
“Right now the locals are coming back.”
He is keen to repeat the Simbang Gabi tradition next Christmas.
“Because of the faith and culture, plus we invite other nationalities, for example Syrian, because our tradition somehow is similar when it comes to going to mass,” he said.
The mass is followed by a community meal with traditional Philippine foods, including a whole spit-roast pig, called lechon.
Ms Parker enjoys sharing the Philippine tradition with other parishioners, especially the refugee families.
“They were very pleased the first time they arrived here. They saw the whole lechon and they basically just went ‘wow’,” she said.
Father Leo said the church community had been strengthened by the involvement of people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
“Although we’ve got different culture, we’ve got different languages, we become one in Jesus through music, through our faith, and through this gathering,” he said.
The community meal includes a spit-roasted whole pig, called “lechon” in the Philippines. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)