By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
BETTENDORF — A prelude of Advent and Christmas songs in English and Filipino languages were sung before the Simbang Gabi Mass for the Filipino Catholic community of the Quad-Cities area on Dec. 16 at St. John Vianney Church.
Father Joseph Sia, a native of the Philippines and pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, was the celebrant. Co-concelebrant was Father Denis Hatungimana of Tanzania, Africa, who is studying at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Fr. Sia also celebrated a Filipino Mass at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa the week before.
Simbang Gabi is the Midnight Mass. Due to date and time constraints, the Masses were held ahead of Christmas Eve.
During his homily, preached in English during the predominately Filipino-language Mass, Fr. Sia said that with the lighting of the rose candle for the third Sunday of Advent there is joy; Christmas is fast approaching. Light is slowly growing in Advent, and is found elsewhere this season, he pointed out. Lights on trees, wreaths and laser lights on homes are some examples.
For the Filipino community, the star is a traditional symbol for Christmas. “The light reminds us that we are waiting for the true light, who is Jesus Christ,” Fr. Sia said. “We cannot appreciate him (Jesus) if we forget the darkness.”
It is not yet Christmas, Fr. Sia noted. But we can follow John the Baptist in realizing our sinfulness and the need for our Savior. In the few days before Christmas, Fr. Sia suggested that the sacrament of reconciliation be celebrated to help Catholics to become more aware and to see the need for the light of Christ.
The sacrament of Communion, he continued, gathers us together in Mass. He reminded the community of the obligation to attend Mass during the weekend and then again on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Some Catholics have been confused because Christmas Eve is Sunday and Christmas Day is Monday. “Visit the one true light — Jesus Christ. He was born to show us the way to heaven,” Fr. Sia said.
Following the Mass, Antonio Bernas, a member of the Filipino-American Association of the Quad Cities, said the traditional novena is observed Dec. 16-23 that leads to the Midnight Mass celebrated Dec. 24. In the Philippines, he said, novenas are held early in the morning and then food is eaten. Oftentimes street vendors sell banana cake and rice cakes after the novenas.
The Filipino community has celebrated the Simbang Gabi Mass at various parishes in the Quad-City area. Bernas said St. John Vianney has been very welcoming and has the space for the reception that follows.
Families bring traditional Filipino foods for everyone to eat at the reception. Parents also bring wrapped presents for their children, which are distributed by Santa.
Bernas said the community has previously tried praying novenas as a group at church but logistics and conflicting schedules interfered. “But we come together for one day to celebrate Simbang Gabi.”
The community gets together for other celebrations throughout the year.
Fr. Sia added that the celebration has been adapted to fit the needs of the community and his schedule. “This is an occasion to come together to worship and prepare for the spirituality of the birth of Christ.”
The event also celebrates “our roots and traditions, and hopefully the children deepen their appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.”