BalikBayani République | Tony Alabastro
Holy Family’s March 19 banquet practiced for generations in rice-producing Iloilo province in Panay give thanks for abundant harvest.
The household welcomes the Holy Family represented by an old, cane-carrying St. Joseph, a much younger Blessed Virgin Mary, and Child Jesus all dressed in saintly robes.
They are welcome to sit in a table of plenty in a home away from home of OFW engineers Steve and Maritess Sotocial.
The couple feeds the Holy Family using wooden spoons, forks and banana leaf-covered wooden plates. They kneel and kiss the hand of St. Joseph (Clive Joseph Jaena), Virgin Mary (Nicole Andrea, 14) and Child Jesus, (Dominic Manuel Gonzales, 9).
In lieu of three-lilies topped wooden staff, birthday celebrant Steve, in pink shirt and blue jeans, gets potted shrub of Baston ni San Jo-se, Tungkod Pari or Tungkod Obispo (Joseph’s/ Priest’s/ Bishop’s staff). Cordyline fruiticosa has broad, elongated red leaves at its slender trunk’s tip.
Guests seek Holy Family’s blessing. They drop on three overflowing wooden bowls coins or bills as alms offered to church.
Father Paul Shie blesses Holy Family representation; gives thanks for its commemoration in Brunei that makes people realize the importance of family.
He wears gray polo barong and sings Song of Saint Joseph as its lyrics flash on television screen beside altar.
St. Joseph’s Table dates back to a Middle Ages drought and famine in Sicily. When rains come, Italian peasants celebrate in His honor a table of plenty.
“We inherited this tradition from our great grandparents. My mother inherited it from my grandmother who inherited it from her grand-mother,” Steve Sotocinal, 58, tells community leaders Ben and Minet Trinidad.
Steve’s March 18 birthday falls on the eve of St. Joseph’s feast day. He has been working 16 years as civil engineer in Brunei oil town Kuala Belait.
“In our hometown in Mina, my mother-in-law has been practicing this tradition for 33 years. Mina is a rural barangay in Pototan town by the Suage river in Iloilo.
“The whole community is invited in the two-day affair. Visperas dinner is for butchers and cooks; next day’s lunch feast has brass band music,” says Steve’s spouse Maritess.
“My mother-in-law is now 88. She uses a magnifying glass to read her novenario. She’s been urging us to follow this tradition she in-herited from her grandparents. Grandchildren, not her own children, join her two-hour prayers. She always prays in church. Her voice at 5:30am wakes us up.”
The Sotocinals’ reluctance to continue the family’s St. Joseph tradition melts when Father Paul in February assigns Maritess to prepare a feast day novena this Year of St. Joseph.
Maritess finds a short St Joseph novena version St John’s Parish Church uses as special prayers on nine successive days.
St. Joseph’s Table of Plenty culminates the nine-day novena, says commentator Dr. Rodman Tan.
St. Joseph also gets honored on May 1 for his vocation as worker and on Christmas as Holy Family protector.