Catholic Vancouver Sept. 6, 2015

Filipino priests perform pop hits for the Church

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Fathers Jun Gutierrez, Kipling Agravante, Zachary Zacarias, and Rudy Ibale, MSC, from Cebu, Phillippines, perform at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish Aug. 14. (Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

SURREY—Four priests in the Philippines are proving that bright lights, fresh outfits, and upbeat tunes aren't just for boy bands.

"People have this standard about what a priest should be: wears vestments, moves slowly," said Father Rudy Ibale, MSC. "Here comes a priest who dances!"

Father Ibale and three fellow parish priests make up the Cebu Clergy Performing Artists. They dance while they sing Christian songs, traditional Filipino songs, and pop songs like "One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful."

Father Ibale started the group 13 years ago. At the time he had been performing solo for five years, singing at parish events and fundraisers with a special guest here or there.

"I was thinking of the Boyz II Men group, with five members," said Father Ibale. "Just for a change, I wanted to have this kind of group to just perform joyfully, without any stress."

He and Fathers Zachary Zacarias, Kipling Agravante, and Jun Gutierrez are all parish priests from the same district in Cebu. While they were practising a dance number for a clergy Christmas party, Father Ibale asked them if they would join his act.

"From that time we decided to form ourselves into a group and do concerts and shows for fundraising for the different parishes in our archdiocese," said Father Zacarias.

"We perform also for various needs, for schools, or for religious organizations in the Church. We don't do performances just for the sake of entertainment."

The energetic quartet landed in Vancouver for four shows Aug. 14-17. Their purpose: to promote the 51st International Eucharistic Congress, in Cebu in January 2016.

"The message is on faith, hope, and love," said Father Agravante. "We have a repertoire of religious songs, and some love songs that people can relate to, and we have some songs for the coming Eucharistic Congress."

After the Vancouver stop, they toured other parts of Canada and the U.S. Most of the funds they raised will go toward Cebu's San Carlos Seminary.

"It's the diocesan seminary. It's where we graduated from," said Father Zacharias. "Since the earthquake, there are major things to repair in the seminary and also the chapel."

It's also the site of a major venue for the International Eucharistic Congress. "The seminary is near the pavilion being built to hold delegates for the congress."

Father Gutierrez was in that seminary's choir. "We never really expected to be part of this singing group when we were in the seminary," he laughed.

"God gave us this privilege of serving the people in a different way, through the music. What used to be a way of expressing our talents also became our apostolate."

This was the group's second tour to North America. They have not toured anywhere else outside the Philippines, but have Australia and New Zealand in their sights.

"We have these dances and these shows, and then we have some conversations to crack jokes and tell our own stories. At the same time, we should not forget that we are priests and that we have a mission to fill," said Father Ibale.

He explained his vision for the group. "I have this dictum in my life: anything that God has given to us can be shared. The moment we stop sharing it, it is no longer a gift, but a possession, and who are we to possess?"

"Our talents are too small, but one thing is for sure: we want to share them."