The heavy downpour outside St Alphonsus Mary de Ligouri Church was a stark contrast to the brightly lit arc-shaped interior of the church, where 13 brides in chiffon and lace and grooms in traditional Philippine pineapple silk filed down a flower-bedecked aisle.
The ceremony was complete with the traditional symbols of a veil enveloping the couple, a lasso tying them together and a coin purse being passed from groom to bride, all signifying the couple being together through the different aspects of married life.
Mgr Claro “Matt” Garcia, St Alphonsus parish priest, told Catholic News Service the couples came from the ranks of personal drivers, cooks and gardeners. He said the 13 couples had been together “without the sacrament of matrimony.”
The couples, who never married in the church because of the cost, had their chance on December 19 when St Alphonsus hosted a mass wedding. Wedding “godparents” from the Church’s affluent neighbourhood helped pay for the couple’s outfits and other costs.
The church, which ordinarily receives an average donation of $575 per wedding — almost triple the average driver’s monthly salary — took care of everything else, including a reception at the parish hall.
“I told the Family and Life Ministry, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a mass wedding for the poor?'” said Mgr Garcia.
Lei Bihag, a stay-at-home mother, and Vincent Bihag, a cook, have three children aged eight, five and three. Lei Bihag said she was excited to be walking down the aisle with her long-time partner. They had been together for nine years before they had a civil wedding in 2013.
“It’s different when there is a blessing in the church, with a priest,” Lei told CNS. “It’s a more blessed wedding, and the marriage receives a blessing, not just the wedding, but the marriage itself.”
Mgr Garcia introduced the project as part of the Philippine bishops’ designation of the Year of the Poor in the past liturgical year, which ended on December 7. The mass wedding was supposed to take place on December 6, but Msgr. Garcia said many of the couples did not have their papers in order.
“Some of them had not been baptised. So I baptised them first,” he said. “And most of them were not confirmed. Since I have the faculty to confirm, they took the sacrament of confirmation … So it (was) three sacraments in one day.”
Abegail Jimenez, 27 said her baptism records at her home parish had the wrong name on them, and so she had to be baptised before her wedding. She and her husband Jay, 36, who does maintenance at the church, had been together three years before they had a civil wedding last year. But they said they jumped at the chance to participate in the mass wedding when it was offered.
“It was a huge help because we have four children,” Jay Jimenez told CNS. “Of course we can’t afford this kind of expense because of our small salaries … and it’s better because it’s a marriage before God. With the judge, it was just before people.”