SAIPAN–Biba San Roque! These were the words chanted by the parishioners and the many faithful who came to celebrate the Feast of San Roque – patron of Saipan’s northernmost church, last August 20, 2017. It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, a weather that surprised many given the rains that watered the island the past few days. As one turns on the road going to the church, an arch with a sign that read: “Umatuna Si Yuus, Biba San Roque” welcomed the parishioners. The usually clear and quiet street of San Roque Village was filled with cars lined up on the side of the road indicating that the parking lot was fully occupied. From the church’s entrance hung a welcome banner and its facade was decorated with bright, colorful buntings giving it a festive vibe. Youths were at the entrance greeting parishioners and handing out handkerchiefs printed with a prayer to San Roque.
Inside the church, fresh flowers decorated the altar and the newly painted walls provided a subtle enhancement to house the saints’ images at the front. At 3:30 pm, the 9th day of novena prayer was recited. It was followed with the Eucharistic celebration at 4 pm presided by Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa. Not to be missed are the three religious/priests of the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR) led by local prior, Fr. Allan Rubett A. Cabatian, OAR, San Roque’s pastor, Fr. Leo Neil Bullos, OAR of Kristo Rai Parish, and Fr. Philip Rollon, Jr, OAR of Santa Remedios Parish, who delivered the homily describing San Roque’s selfless sacrifice, unconditional love and dedication to help the sick and the needy and his strong faith in God amidst trials and suffering. Mass concelebrants were Fr. Jason Granado of San Vicente Parish, Fr. James Balajadia of San Jude Parish, Fr. Harold Funa of Mt. Carmel Cathedral and Fr. Romil Aperocho of San Antonio Parish.
It was during last year’s fiesta celebration that Bishop Ryan installed Rev. Fr. Allan Rubett Cabatian as San Roque’s Parish Administrator. He, together with Fr. Neil and Fr. Philip, officially marked the return of the OAR’s missionary presence after long years, and this is the first year of their reestablishment in the island. Fr. Allan, in his first year as pastor, together with his brothers Recollects spearheaded many projects, working diligently to reinvigorate the people’s interest and involvement in the church, and, address the needs of the parishioners. Mass goers can now better hear and understand the liturgy with the new speakers installed. Parents who may have reservations or difficulty in attending the church due to their infants or young children may now stay in the former parish office which has been turned into a “crying room.” The room is designed to accommodate and help them watch over their children while still being able to take part in the Eucharistic celebration. Fr. Allan also organized a Youth Faith Formation through Lectio Divina every last Saturday of the month to help the youth grow deeper in faith. He was also instrumental in the conversion of one adult to the Catholic faith. And last June, in response to the request of many parishioners who were unable to attend the morning mass due to work schedules, the parish began its Tagalog Evening Mass every first Sunday of the month at 6 pm.
Indeed, there are so many things to be thankful for. It took several weeks of planning and preparation, distributing and selling raffle tickets to raise funds for the upkeep and many projects lined up for the parish, and before the final blessing, Fr. Allan, expressed “gratitude” on the collective efforts of the parish volunteers (Servants of San Roque), donors and sponsors, and all the people who extended their help and support to come up with not just a momentous but meaningful celebration.
After the mass, “lukao” (procession), dinner, entertainment and raffle draw are in order. The “lukao” was held around the village while Hymn to San Roque was sung. Looking up, people were in awe at the sight of not one but two rainbows forming a beautiful backdrop against the clear blue skies. The “lukao” ended with the blessing of the handkerchiefs with the image of and prayer to San Roque inside the church by Bishop Ryan and Fr. Allan as the people waved them in honor of the patron saint while chanting “Biba San Roque!” And just as rainbows bring a sense of hope and remind us of God’s promise; it is with the same fervent hope that the fiesta celebration is not the conclusion but rather the commencement of a more active, collaborative, and prayerful parish community in San Roque. The challenge is on…
The parish and its organizing committee wish to extend its sincerest gratitude to the following donors, sponsors and individuals who generously contributed to make this occasion a success. May the Lord through the intercession of San Roque return your kindness a hundredfold.