Meet the first Pinoy monsignor in US

By Rommel Conclara, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at May 09 2014 11:42 AM | Updated as of May 09 2014 07:42 PM

BURLINGAME, California – Monsignor Fred Bitanga celebrated his 50th anniversary in the priesthood with devoted Roman Catholics and members of the Filipino community.

Bitanga was a pioneer for many Filipino priests in the United States. He was born in 1933 and was ordained as a priest in Dagupan, Pangasinan 50 years ago.

He studied for the priesthood in the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. He then worked in Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan until 1969 when he left for the United States.

Bitanga earned a master’s degree in Administration and Supervision at the University of San Francisco. He was assigned to churches all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 1989, he was elevated as an Honorary Prelate of Pope John Paul II and given the title "monsignor". Bitanga is the only Filipino priest to have been bestowed that honor while in the United States.

He was also appointed the first Vicar for the Filipino Ministry in 1971.

In 1983, Bitanga was appointed the Coordinator of Filipino Ministry and was instrumental in creating the Pastoral Plan for Filipino Ministry.

This plan called for promoting Filipino culture and expressions of the faith while encouraging active participation and involvement in parish life.

The 81-year-old Bitanga also helped found the Filipino Catholic Charismatic Communities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

"I tell you I don’t know that I would reach this one of 50 years but thanks be to God. For as long as I am able to go around I am not yet in the care home so I will do whatever I can in order to bring the love of Jesus," Bitanga said.

He was especially happy to share this milestone in his life with his kababayans.

"Oh my gosh! I cannot believe it. This shows that they belong to the Philippines and they are proud they are all Filipinos," he said.