Posted on

Under the ‘Flowers of May’

Flores de Mayo returns to Charles City’s Filipino, Catholic community

By Kate Hayden

The only Flores de Mayo celebration in Iowa is returning to Charles City this Saturday. Immaculate Conception Church and the Fil-Am Association of Charles City will host their eighth annual Mass and fiesta, organizer Eduardo Concepcion said.

The religious commemoration begins with Saturday Mass at 1:30 p.m., and parishioners will parade out in the streets as a unified community to the Senior Center at 2:30 p.m. Program introductions and a ‘merienda’, or light community meal, will begin around 3:30 p.m.

The seeds of Charles City’s Flores de Mayo were planted a few years ago Concepcion said, when residents realized they didn’t have an event to unify as a cultural community.

“We didn’t have this activity where we could gather as a full group, as a Filipino community,” Concepcion, an officer in the Fil-Am Association, said. “We brainstormed on, ‘what activity or celebration can we celebrate here in Charles City?’”

The month-long “Flowers of May” festival, which is devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the only celebration that truly unifies the diverse regions among the Philippines, Concepcion said. The Spanish terms come from the Philippines’ period of Spanish colonization from the mid-1500s to late 1800s.

“There are other celebrations that are just very specific to their own region, whereas Flores de Mayo is celebrated throughout the whole country,” Concepcion said.

The Fil-Am Association visited another Flores de Mayo celebration in Minnesota before founding Charles City’s event in 2009, with financial help from the Diversity Council of Charles City. Now, Concepcion said, the event no longer relies on council sponsorship, and is able to cover costs with profits from food stands during Charles City’s annual Independence Day and Art-a-Fest celebrations. While the Fil-Am Association will accept donations, the event is free to the public.

In the Philippines, young girls will gather within the Catholic churches and bring flowers to Mother Mary as part of the month’s venerations, Concepcion said. The last Sunday in May traditionally hosts the month’s processionals for churches –– and the young girls who hold honored positions: eight virtues in all, represented by a “queen” carrying the symbol of each virtue in processional.

“Mama Mary has different virtues. For example, we call her the queen of justice,” Concepcion said. “She carries this weighing scale to represent justice. Every queen has a different symbol that they carry during processional.”

The Charles City processional has slight changes from tradition –– ”queens” are called “princesses”, and the number in a processional depends on how many girls attend Mass that afternoon. To lessen conflicts with graduation at Charles City High School, the Fil-Am Association changed it to the last Saturday in May –– still encapsulating the reason for the celebration.

“This is the story of Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine, the boy prince, during the time of Queen Helen,” Concepcion said. “It was during the time of Constantine that Rome became Christian. From that time on, we celebrate (Constantine and Helen’s) search for the holy cross” –– the “santacruzan”, for which the processional is named after.

Thirteen-year-old Nicole Concepcion of Charles City will be 2016’s Reyna Elena, standing under an archway decorated by her family during the processional to represent Queen Helen. Four-year-old Ethan Geerts of Floyd will be her escort, representing boy prince Constantine.  

The procession is led by the Reyna Emperatriz, who was the previous year’s Reyna Elena. Jean Grace (Egos) Gifford, from Allison, will be escorted by her father Rolando Egos. Father Joseph Sia, a visiting Filipino priest from Columbus Junction, a visiting choral group and IC parishioners will follow behind as the group makes its way to the Senior Center for reception and a potluck.

This is Father Sia’s second year leading the Flores de Mayo Mass, and the first year the choral group from Ottumwa will join the IC Mass, Concepcion said. The Mass will be done in English, with Filipino songs sung and traditions explained by Father Sia.

“We invite other Filipinos from Iowa, they come as far as Marshalltown, Waterloo, Mason City, almost every part of Iowa,” Concepcion said. “(We) have our own identity as a Charles City celebration.”

“What is important is we are able to enjoy the camaraderie and friendship of others,” he said.