Pinoys boycott church in Saipan over racist remark

GARAPAN, Saipan – A loud remark made by a man claiming that a Catholic church in the US island of Saipan “is not for the Filipinos" led to a boycott of the parish and a temporary stop to monetary donations to the church by members of the Filipino community.

The Kristo Rai Church in Garapan, which was boycotted by some Filipinos, is one of the main Catholic churches in Saipan.

Saipan is the capital of the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), home to some 10,000 OFWs and Filipino-Americans.

The Catholic Church leadership has not issued any public statement about the discriminatory remarks against Filipinos and about the boycott.

But the community is also split about the issue – others support the boycott while others say boycotting the church will do further harm to all parties involved. E-mails and text messages calling for support to the boycotts also continue to circulate.

“Hindi ako nagbigay ng donasyon sa simbahan kasi nakiisa ako sa boycott (I didn’t donate to the church because I supported the boycott)," one of the regular Kristo Rai Church goers told GMANews.TV on Monday afternoon. She has been working in Saipan for 16 years.

But the OFW said while she does not condone hurtful and discriminatory remarks against Filipinos or any other race or ethnicity, she felt bad about not donating to the church on Sunday as she is used to doing.

The church in question had much fewer people on Sunday than the previous Sundays, she said.

Filipino members of a choir that serves the 9:30 a.m. Mass also boycotted the Kristo Rai Church on Sunday.

The Filipino choir has been singing at the church for seven years, while some of its members have been singing with other choirs in the island for over 15 years.

Noli Santos, coordinator of the 9:30 a.m. Mass choir, said there were several incidents in the past that were discouraging, frustrating and in most cases, discriminatory that they let pass but an incident he described as “a blatant discrimination against Filipinos at the Kristo Rai Church" on Dec. 20 after the Dawn Mass was too much to bear.

Santos said a local Saipan resident who is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council shouted at and humiliated a Filipina working as a maintenance staff member inside the church vicinity witnessed by him and many churchgoers.

“Being a parish official, Mr. (Vic) Cepeda should have exercised professionalism and should have discussed the matter in private. Instead, Mr. Cepeda chose to explode in public that left the poor Filipina speechless and crying," Santos said in an open letter.

He said what caught everyone's attention who witnessed the incident was when Cepeda said: “This is our church! This is not for the Filipinos. You can tell that to the priest. I don't care!"

The Catholic priest being referred to was Father Glen Ragsag, a Filipino, who is the parish priest of Kristo Rai Church.

“Any way we look at it, it's discriminatory to all Filipinos. Not politically but religiously," said Santos, adding that the Catholic Church does not discriminate against ethnic origins.

The choir called for the man who made the remark to apologize to the Filipinos and the Catholic community “for claiming that Kristo Rai Church is not for Filipinos."

“We are asking the support of all the Filipinos and Catholics who are opposed to this kind of discriminatory acts. Let us not attend any Mass at Kristo Rai Church until Mr. Cepeda issues a public apology. Let your voices be heard. We know other choir groups singing at Kristo Rai have experienced the same discrimination," said Santos.