Wednesday, December 20, 2006

While (Many of) You Were Sleeping... Again....

Happy Simbang Gabi to all.

OK, be honest -- how many are scratching their heads?

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those who are fail today's Wide World of Catholicism pop quiz. However, fret not. It's a big church, it happens -- and while it's no easy task serving as the cheat sheet, somebody's gotta do it.

In that vein, today's the fifth day of the traditional novena of pre-dawn Masses that are a revered (not to mention numerically huge) tradition in the Philippines. And where the Filipino community goes, the tradition comes along, packing parishes and sounding the traditional pealing of the bells, regardless of whether the liturgies begin at 3.30am or 7.30pm.

In the US' largest diocese, the celebrations were given a cathedral kickoff before spreading to 114 parishes...
The theme for the 2006 celebrations, taken from the Gospel of Luke (2:12), is "You will find a Child ... lying in a manger" (Makikita ninyo ang isang SANGGOL ... na nakahimlay sa sabsaban). It is a theme that was inspired by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of the Archdiocese of Manila when he visited Los Angeles in October to promote his project "Pondo ng Pinoy" (literally translated, Funds for the Filipino) and his Theology of the Crumbs based on the story of Lazarus, the poor man waiting for crumbs to fall from the rich man's (Dives) table.

"It is taking care of our 'Lazaruses' --- the poor who are just waiting for the crumbs to fall from our tables, the crumbs that we share --- that will bring us to heaven," said Good Shepherd Sister Mary Christina Sevilla, ministry director for the Filipino Community....

Simbang Gabi is a Philippine Advent tradition, a novena of Masses that literally means "night Mass." A uniquely Filipino custom dating back nearly 500 years, Simbang Gabi begins nine nights before Christmas Eve. In the Philippines, families usually make their way to church in the dark to attend dawn Mass; in the U.S. Masses are often held in the evening.'s even spread to the United Arab Emirates:
Those who cannot go home try to keep up the tradition in the places where they work. In Dubai, the novena is held at St Mary’s Church. The parish priest Nen Bunag said around 4,000 Filipinos take part every night.
Here in the States, from the exurbs of Jersey, to California wine country and thousands of venues in-between, the novena's become a multicultural lodestar of the calendar. Post-Mass potlucks fill up with Italian, Polish and Mexican dishes alongside the Filipino mainstays and, to a pastor, the devotion manifested is said to be contagious, "hard-core" and a boon for parish life that spills into the rest of the year across all kinds of boundaries.

As the Catholic conversation endures the ravages of an "If it screeds, it leads" culture, it's just further proof that, more often than not, the best aspects of the church's life continue to operate under a wider radar... even for many of its own.

AP/Pat Roque