St. Anthony parish focuses on health for Filipino community

FLORENCE — St. Anthony Church has formed a special bond with a Catholic church in the Philippines.

The Florence parish of about 946 households has become a sister parish to Holy Trinity, a large church that serves 16 small chapels in the Payatas area.

Nine of the chapels have especially needy congregations.

Payatas is the site of Manila’s largest waste dump. Many poor squatters, including children, live nearby and pick through the trash to find items to sell, according to Father Arturo Dalupang, pastor of St. Anthony.

Holy Trinity established Holy Trinity Community Health in the area to serve the basic health needs of families who might otherwise go without care, he said. Members of St. Anthony pledged to focus their efforts on supporting the community health program.

Donations to the center help provide medicine, lab work, X-rays and supplies, and pay doctors’ fees. The center treats about 30 patients a day.

Father Dalupang, a native of the Philippines, said he first discovered the need at Holy Trinity while he was in the country in late 2007 for his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. He remembered seeing similar poverty while growing up in Quezon City.

Witnessing that need gave him a desire to help others, which carried on through his first career in nursing and then to his life as a priest, he said.

Father Dalupang met the two priests who serve Holy Trinity, Fathers Elpidio R. de Peralta Jr. and Luciano Felloni. They celebrate 16 Masses each Sunday to accommodate Holy Trinity and the chapels and also offer two Masses a day during the week.

“I saw all the work they did, how they ministered to the poor and I thought ‘we need to adopt this church,’ ” Father Dalupang said. “The work they do with the poor is very demanding. The parish runs feeding programs, the health clinic, after-school tutoring. There’s overwhelming need in the area.”

One of the biggest problems the center faces is an outbreak of tuberculosis in Payatas. Recent statistics provided by Father Felloni show more than 60 percent of children in the area have been affected by the disease.

Father Felloni visited St. Anthony in April for two weeks to talk about the situation in Payatas. The parish council then met to discuss which programs to sponsor.

“There was overwhelming agreement that they wanted to do something,  a project they could control and that was meaningful,” Father Dalupang said.

The council chose the health center, and their first project was to raise $7,000 for a new X-ray machine by the end of May. A nurse practitioner from the parish also donated a microscope.

Some families have committed to making monthly donations to the center for a two-year period, and parish organizations from the Boy Scouts to  men’s and women’s clubs are working on their own projects to help the effort.

Father Dalupang said they have plans to sell Christmas ornaments made of capiz shells from the Philippines with all proceeds earmarked for the health programs.

People also have sent donated school supplies and other items for the tutoring and after-school programs Holy Trinity offers.

St. Anthony parishioners are committed to supporting their sister parish through prayer.

Holy Trinity parishioners responded with the statement: “We pledge to nurture and enrich this endeavor … by working steadfastly towards the transformation of our parish into a community of God’s unceasing love and mercy.”

Father Dalupang said the Holy Trinity project has renewed his parish’s commitment to social justice for the poor overseas. Already, St. Anthony is home to many people committed to helping the needy in the Florence area. The parish regularly supports migrant ministry programs, feeding programs for the poor and homeless, and other efforts.

“I had one man tell me it was about time we did something like this, that here we are in the Bible belt in Florence and he has seen other churches doing things like this overseas for years,” Father Dalupang said. “Their giving has touched my heart.  I know the people in this parish, and I know this parish has a good heart.”