George Alayon remembers fondly participating in the religious tradition Flores de Mayo, while growing up in Davao, a province in the southern part of The Philippines.
As a young boy he would join with the rest of the children in his home town to gather in the church each day during the month of May, to attend Catechism classes, offer flowers to the statue of the Virgin Mary and enjoy free goodies.
This became a daily routine for him and his friends throughout his childhood years.
Then, ten years ago, he moved to Bermuda, and gradually got used to a new set of holidays and traditions honoured by the local Catholic community.
Recently, Mr Alayon joined with dozens of others in the Filipino community on the island, to host Flores de Mayo, and another beloved Filipino festival known as Santacruzan, in Bermuda for the first time.
Their efforts were supported by the local diocese.
According to Mr Alayon, the events were “well received” and included a colourful procession through the streets of Hamilton, starting on Elliot Street and finishing at Laffan Street, near to St Theresa’s Cathedral.
Before the procession there was a service inside the Cathedral, which included the recitation of the Holy Rosary in various language, English, Tagalog, Visaya, Portuguese and Konkani (Goa, India).
Flores de Mayo is described as a Catholic flower festival in honour of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.
The feast is marked with the faithful community offering some flowers, which abundantly bloom in the month of May in the Philippines, to the Virgin Mary at the altar in the church, every day for the whole month.
Flores de Mayo culminates with the Santacruzan Procession, which is named after “Santa Cruz,” or the Holy Cross, which commemorates the finding of the True Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
This religious pageant includes a parade of a decorated arch and elaborately dressed women, representing significant female characters from the Old and New Testament, as well as the various titles of Mary.
The idea to host the events in Bermuda was inspired after a conversation Mr Alayon had with Father Joseph Morley, the pastor at Stella Maris Parish, St George’s.
Father Joseph asked the Filipino Community through Couples for Christ & Family Ministries Bermuda, about the most famous festivals celebrated in the Philippines.
While there were many to choose from, Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan were the first that came to mind.
Mr Alayon said: “We gained a lot of lessons from this first try of doing the festivals here in Bermuda.
“We hope this will be an annual event going forward, and see a lot of potential to make this bigger and even better in the coming years, maybe even using this as a fundraising initiative for the Catholic Diocese and as a tourism attraction for visitors to the island.
“Certainly, adding this to the already colourful culture of Bermuda will further enrich our overall island culture for everybody to enjoy in the years to come.
“We’ll try our best and work with everybody next year to make this festival even bigger and more meaningful.”
Mr Alayon grew up in a Christian household in the Philippines and said he could have his pick of churches to attend as a youngster.
Still, it wasn’t until his university years that he recalls his faith being truly ignited.
“I’m an accountant by profession and went to a private university run by Jesuits to study for my degree, and there, regardless of your religion, one is taught both theology and philosophy as minor subjects. That played a crucial role in strengthening my faith.
“The philosophy and theology courses forced me to come to terms with what I believed about religion and God, and taught me not to have just blind faith, but to have an informed faith as well.
“Obviously having full faith and total surrender to God is an important aspect of being a Christian, but you also have to somehow make sense and rationalise your beliefs.
“Fortes in Fide, or Strong in Faith, was my university’s motto, and going through all these mental battles throughout my studies really made my faith stronger than ever.
“This is crucial, especially when you start sharing that faith to others.”
Mr Alayon moved to Bermuda in 2008. Being thousands of miles away from his home, he admits it was important to find a good community of believers to fellowship with soon after he arrived.
He immediately joined the choir at St Theresa’s Cathedral and later joined Couples for Christ, along with his wife Grace.
He said: “It isn’t easy juggling all the responsibilities as a husband and a father of two while serving in the Church.
“But somehow, having traditions and festivals like the Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan can lift someone’s spirit especially as you start working with other people in making this happen.
“I think that’s really where the miracle happens when you accomplish something big by working with everybody, setting aside whatever differences you may have, for a purpose that is bigger than yourself. And to me that is more than enough reward in itself.”
For more information visit www.cfcbermuda.com or check out their Facebook page: CFC Bermuda