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Tradition lights the way to birth of Jesus

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SAN DIEGO — Parols, lighted colorful star-shaped lanterns, will mark the opening of the Simbang Gabi vigil Mass at Resurrection Church in Escondido on Dec. 14. Simbang Gabi is a Filipino faith tradition that prepares the hearts of the faithful for the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

The Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Robert McElroy, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishops John Dolan and Ramón Bejarano and Filipino clergy. It serves as a commissioning for the Simbang Gabi novena Masses that will continue through Dec. 24 in parishes across the diocese.

Simbang Gabi (Filipino for “evening Mass”) is a devotional novena of Masses practiced by Filipino Catholics in anticipation of the solemnity of the birth of the Savior and in honor of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“It’s a rich cultural tradition brought to the Philippines in 1668 by Spanish missionaries from Mexico, that has been preserved through the centuries by Filipino faithful,” according to Charlotte Fajardo, from the diocesan Office for Ethnic and Intercultural Communities.

The Mass on Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m., will begin with a procession into the church of representatives from parishes and religious communities hoisting parols, star-shaped lanterns representing the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men to the manger of Baby Jesus.

“It is an expression of shared faith and hope, the triumph of light over darkness and Filipinos’ goodwill during the Christmas season,” according to Fajardo. “The parol is a reminder of God’s presence among us, that Jesus, the Light of the World, brings life and light to all who accept Him.”

Just before the end of the Mass, the bishop will initiate a candle-lighting ceremony, bless the parols and the full community, then send them forth as a symbol of their mission to light the way to Christ. The parols will be returned to the parishes to be incorporated into their community’s celebrations.

Last year’s Simbang Gabi vigil Mass coincided with the beginning of the 500th anniversary celebration of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines, and the theme “Gifted to Give.” In response to the theme, “proceeds and donations from the event will be given to diocesan seminarians,” according to Yola Marie Arguilla, chairperson for the Diocesan Commission for Filipino Catholics, which is organizing the Mass.

San Diego parishes with Filipino-American communities have been celebrating Simbang Gabi since the late 1970s. The tradition shares Filipinos’ legacy of faith with their families and members of their parishes to inspire them to receive in their hearts the gift of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

For more information about the Simbang Gabi celebration on Dec. 14 and for the schedule of novenas at participating parishes, visit sdcatholic.org/simbanggabi2021 or call Charlotte Fajardo at (858) 271-0207, ext. 1204.

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