Leaders of the Filipino community in the New York area have formally asked Archbishop Timothy Dolan (photo above) with “all humility and deep respect” to reconsider his decision to end the holding of the annual “Simbang Gabi” or misa de gallo at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue.

The leaders personally delivered to the Office of the Archbishop a letter on Nov. 24 explaining in detail why the 25-year-old tradition of Filipino eucharistic celebration that usher in Christmas season must continue at the Philippine Center rather than at a Catholic church which, according to Dolan, is more appropriate.

Dolan, who was not available to address the matter, is in Rome.

His media relations office said the Archbishop will respond to the letter when he returns to New York.

Dolan’s office did not give a specific date of his return.

This as the Filipino community has decided to continue the “Simbang Gabi” at the Philippine Center, but with “some modifications,” pending Dolan’s response to the letter.

The Filipino Reporter has learned that the nine-day celebration will go on as scheduled at the Philippine Center from Dec. 7 to Dec. 15, but it will only be a liturgy of the word with no consecration — or the transformation of bread and wine into Jesus’s body and blood.

“It will be a prayer service in the tradition of Simbang Gabi and not a full mass because no consecration will take place,” explained Vivian Cruz, co-chair of the Simbang Gabi Coalition of Philippine Alumni Associations and the UN Philippine Cultural Society.

Cruz was among the community leaders who delivered the community’s letter to Dolan’s office on First Avenue.

She was joined by Lumen Castañeda, Nida Cortez, Juliet Payabyab, Ilo Wallenstein and Philippine Deputy Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega.

‘Tradition lives’

“So the tradition lives on, only with some modifications,” Cruz said.

She added that the issue made the community “more aware of the importance of keeping our tradition alive and somehow brought us even closer together as a community.”

In the letter to Dolan signed by leaders of 37 Fil-Am organizations, who are sponsors of the misa de gallo, they offered several points they hope Dolan will consider:

• The masses are held at the Philippine Center not only because of logistical concerns but more importantly because it is a place which community members feel best approximates the environment for a community fellowship in the celebration of the holy mass and also for the traditional socio-cultural aspects of this time-honored ritual.

The Philippine Center is for many in the community the closest they will ever be to their country.

• The fellowship or “salu-salo” at the end of each mass is an opportunity for Filipinos to gather with their friends and family and celebrate their being part of a wider community.

• In essence the Simbang Gabi for Filipinos the world over is both a religious and cultural experience, a tradition that strengthens our Filipino identity and re-animates our faith in God and faith in each other. 

• The active involvement of the community and the ever-growing attendance at the masses held at the Center are concrete manifestations of how a migrant community comes together.

It is from the camaraderie, friendship and concern rooted in an activity like the Simbang Gabi, with both religious and cultural dimensions, that the migrant Filipino community is further strengthened.

• This unique tradition has been recognized by the Holy See which granted special permission to include the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” in the liturgy for the Simbang Gabi masses.

“While we are informed of the Archbishop’s view on the matter, we ask in all humility and with deep respect that the good Archbishop view the Simbang Gabi tradition at the Philippine Center as a unique custom for the Philippine Catholic faithful in the U.S. Northeast,” the letter to Dolan states.

“Furthermore, we wish to assure the Archdiocese that this tradition held at the Philippine Center is a special one which takes place only once a year and does not form part of our habitual observance of the Eucharistic celebration.”

“The Philippine Center will hopefully be viewed by the good Archbishop as a place appropriate for the holding of the Simbang Gabi masses in the spirit of its pastoral care for members of migrant communities such as ourselves” it says.

Standing by decision

The Archdiocese of New York said it is standing by its decision based on Dolan’s letter to Fr. Joseph Marabe, moderator of the Filipino Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New York, saying “the Archdiocese does not approve of having Masses for the Filipino Catholic Community being celebrated outside a sacred worship place.”

Fr. Lorenzo Ato, the archdiocese’s assistant director for media, said the archdiocese is just following the Canon Law which states that the eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place which is the church, unless a particular necessity requires otherwise.

Emphasizing that the Philippine Center or its Freedom Hall (Kalayaan Hall) “is not a consecrated area,” Ato said the Filipino community has no choice but to obey the Cannon Law.

Ato said there are cultural communities in the New York area that celebrate mass in their parishes or other churches, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, and then go to another place for get-together.

Chapel of San Lorenzo

The Archbishop’s media relations office said the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Little Italy in Lower Manhattan is also available for the “Simbang Gabi.”

That chapel on Broome Street is headed by Marabe.

When told about the Filipino community’s plan to continue holding the “Simbang Gabi” sans consecration, Ato said the community will still need to make a formal request to the Vicar General for a priest who will preside.

“If there is no consecration, that would be a prayer service, that would not be a mass,” Dolan’s media relations office said.

Ato, nevertheless, said if it’s only prayer service, then the Filipino community can hold it freely at the Philippine Center.

“You can do that (prayer service) but you will still need a priest who knows exactly how he must conduct that prayer service,” Ato said.

“But in a prayer service, there is no sacrament, it’s just a prayer.”

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