FILIPINO TRADITION ALIVE IN NEW YORK: Simbang Gabi Mass at the Philippine Center in New York City Wednesday evening. Right photo: Our Lady of Manhattan procession on Fifth Avenue.  (Photo by Troi Santos)

Heeding the Filipino community’s pleas to reconsider his No-Mass directive, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan granted dispensation to celebrate full mass at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for nine consecutive nights that began Dec. 7 as part of the 26th annual “Simbang Gabi,” or misa de gallo ushering Christmas.

Both the community and the Philippine Consulate General rejoiced at the news that came Tuesday through a letter from Dolan himself and addressed to the Philippine Consulate.

“In light of the fact that the Simbang Gabi Masses are to begin in about two weeks, and that announcements of their dates and location have already been distributed, it seems that we ought not to change anything this year,” Dolan wrote in his letter.

“I trust that you and those who wrote me will agree.”

Deputy Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega, who accompanied four community leaders to personally deliver a letter of appeal to Dolan’s office on Nov. 24, said the Consulate received a call from the Archdiocese of New York informing them of Dolan’s decision moments before the actual letter was sent to the Consulate Tuesday noon.

“The consul general (Mario de Leon, Jr.) spoke to the Archdiocese and was informed that the Archbishop is amenable to having the masses continue here at the Center for this year,” De Vega said.

“The Consulate General and all the organizers are deeply grateful to the Archdiocese of New York for its appreciation of the Simbang Gabi tradition and the preparations which have already been undertaken to ensure its successful holding this year,” said the Consulate in a statement.

“We look forward to working closely with the Archdiocese in planning future commemorations of the Simbang Gabi tradition, a most cherished spiritual and cultural event for Filipinos.”

“(The news) was so uplifting, to say the least,” said Vivian Talambiras Cruz, co-chair of the Coalition of Philippine Alumni Association and the United Nations Philippine Cultural Society.

Cruz was among the community leaders who delivered the letter to Dolan, along with Lumen Castañeda, Juliet Payabyab, Nida Cortez and Ilo Wallenstein, representing dozens of Filipino organizations who are sponsoring the series of evening masses that ends on Dec. 15.

‘Grateful to Dolan’

“We are grateful to the Archbishop for his open mindedness in allowing us to continue this most anticipated event in the Filipino community,” Cruz also said.

“The attempt to abruptly take away this quarter of a century tradition at the Philippine Center, however, has turned out to be a blessing. It has brought us closer as a community.”

“We are grateful to Consul General Mario de Leon and Deputy Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega for leading us and for being the wind beneath our wings,” Cruz added.

Prior to Dolan’s letter of dispensation, the community had decided to proceed with the nine-day celebration at the Philippines Center with “some modifications.”

They initially planned to rid the consecration of the bread and wine, thus reducing the gathering into a prayer worship instead of full mass, which is acceptable to the church.

De Vega, meanwhile, said the Archdiocese wants to have a dialogue with the Consulate and the community about the future of Simbang Gabi, particularly for next year’s celebration.

She said two representatives from the Chancery Office along with Fr. Joseph Marabe, head of the Filipino Apostolate, and three Filipino leaders who signed the appeal letter to Dolan — Cruz, Castaneda and Payabyab — will meet at a yet scheduled date.

Among matters to be discussed are reasons for continuing the holding of Simbang Gabi masses at the Philippine Center, De Vega said.

The Archdiocese earlier announced that it “does not approve of having Masses for the Filipino Catholic Community being celebrated outside a sacred worship place.”

But the community, in its appeal letter, raised numerous points why the unique Filipino tradition must be held at the Philippine Center.

“The Simbang Gabi 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,” according to one of the arguments.

“The Philippine Center is for many in the community the closest we will ever be to our country and our own local communities in the Philippines.”

De Leon missed the first three nights of the Simbang Gabi because he had to attend a planning seminar for all heads of Philippine foreign posts in the U.S. held at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.

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