June 20, 2024

Wherever we travel in any country, I make it a point to at attend a Sunday mass in a Catholic Church.
So, in our last visit to Geneva, Switzerland, I attended the 7 p.m. English mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica, as I usually did.
After the mass, I met a Filipino guy at the bus stop who also attended mass and engaged him in a conversation. He is Josh Escalante who is a former captain of the Philippine Marines when Gen. Nelson Allaga was the commandant. He also joined Col. Sonny Trillanes in the Oakwood Hotel siege. Josh is with his family in Geneva where his wife, Melody, works as a dentist.
Josh was recruited to join the Filipino choir at the Geneva Cathedral which was in need of male vocalists. As a lover of music himself, being with musical groups during his military stint and in musical gigs of Filipinos in Geneva, he gamely joined.
Another fellow Filipino, Emmanuel Salazar, who works as an engineer, is also with the group. There are 14 female singers who live in Geneva, most of whom work in various fields, who compose the Filipino choir.
There are also students, two of whom regularly sing with the choir – Justine and Tatiana – who are school mates at the European University. Tatiana is actually an Indonesian. Justine was sent by her parents to study the latest marketing technologies which she intends to introduce to their family businesses in the Philippines.
I also met an Italian who is not a regular member as she would only join the choir whenever she is in Geneva.
Josh invited me to join although I told him thatI could not be a regular member. I learned later on that there are no formal requirements to join as long as you can carry a tune, be able to blend with the members, and understand the songs in accordance with the Gospel readings.
The following Sunday, Josh told me to sit with the choir. He introduced me to madame Elisa Martellet, a Filipina married to a French. Elisa worked in the United Nations Organization and had since become a Swiss citizen.
Elisa was a parishioner of the St. John XXIII Parish in Petit Saconnex, Geneva. One day, an acolyte invited her to join a group of Filipinos singing hymns at the side room of the church. She accepted and after a few Sundays later, she suggested to the group that they should sing during Sunday masses and the group agreed. Elisa talked with the parish priest who agreed to allow the Filipino choir to sing in the 7 p.m. Sunday masses at the Notre Dame Basilica in Geneva, which is officiated in the English language.
In Geneva, all the church services are officiated in the French language, except in St. John XXIII Parish Church, which is the only English-speaking church in Geneva. The 7 p.m. English mass in the Notre Dame Basilica is actually a service of the St. John XXIII Parish to the Notre Dame Cathedral as a courtesy to English-speaking tourists as it is just beside Gare de Cornavin, the main train station in Geneva. It further serves all other residents who would better understand an evening mass done in the English language, including the hymns.
The Filipino choir is accompanied by piano played by Elisa, who also conducts the choir and arranges the songs and hymns in accordance with the Gospel readings. She prepares and prints the hymns then distribute them to the choir members to study a few days before the rehearsals. About four hours before the actual mass, rehearsals are done at the St. John XXIII Parish Church at Rue de Montbrillant, about a kilometer and a half walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Elisa leads and conducts the rehearsals professionally and the choir members respect her leadership and capability. It is also through the rehearsals that the choir members socially bond together over merienda of coffee and pastries prepared and shared voluntarily by the members.
Myra, who had been a member since the inception of the choir, told me that over the years, there were romantic interludes among members in the group.
The Filipino choir has served for 27 years, so far, and had participated in the World Day of Peace celebrations on invitation by the Permanent Mission of the Holy See and will sing again this year. It had performed for some years on the First Sunday of Advent mass celebrations of Notre Dame Basilica broadcasted over RTS. This Filipino choir is a pride of the Filipinos here in Geneva and Switzerland.
I had a wonderful time rehearsing and singing with the Filipino choir in three Sunday masses in Notre Dame Basilica De Geneve and will look forward to joining them again on our next visit.