Middletown Shrine Hosts Simbang Gabi Mass for Filipino Catholics


Filipinos from the Hudson Valley and beyond celebrated in person and via livestream the Fil-Am Catholic Community of the Hudson Valley’s fourth annual Simbang Gabi sa Shrine at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown Dec. 19.

Simbang Gabi is a Filipino tradition honoring Mary, mother of Jesus, with a nine-day series of daily Masses leading to Christmas. About 60 people attended the Mass celebrated in the Tagalog language in Middletown, compared to a few hundred in past years, as masks were worn and social distancing was practiced due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big Filipino tradition, and we’re known for it in the world,” Brother Von Erick M. Sandoval, O. Carm., a native of the Philippines, told CNY.

Brother Sandoval, who is studying for the Carmelite priesthood, has organized the Mass each year and hopes one day the Filipino community in the Hudson Valley may celebrate the nine days of Masses as they are celebrated in the Philippines. “I thought everything went well,” Brother Sandoval said. “We did what we could given the pandemic. There was a lot of positive feedback.”

Father Reynor Santiago, parochial vicar of St. Stephen, the First Martyr parish in Warwick, is a native of the Philippines and served as celebrant. The first reading from Samuel and the Gospel from Luke, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to the Son of God, were read in Tagalog. The responsorial psalm and the second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans were in English.

“Father touched on the pandemic and how do we have hope with this world we live in (during his homily),” Brother Sandoval said. “This will be the Christmas where we’ll be restricted from visiting family. We won’t have large gatherings. At our dinner table, some people could be missing because they died.

“Hope is coming to us with Jesus Christ. That’s the summation of his homily, how do we live in that hope of the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Before the Mass concluded, Carol Bezak, the shrine director, acknowledged the people watching from the Philippines and welcomed the Filipino community.

“The Fil-Am Catholic Community of the Hudson Valley has found a home here at the shrine and we welcome anything they plan for the future. We’re happy to have them here,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful night to recognize that we’re all one in Christ.”

“Look with kindness on those who are about to receive devoutly the scapular of Carmel which they will wear faithfully as the sign of their commitment to the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Grant in surrendering to the love of the most tender virgin, they may conform themselves to the image of Jesus Christ, Your Son, and having run the course of this life happily may they enter into the joy of your house,” Father Santiago said.

Father Santiago added those who will receive the scapular will become members of the fraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

“For the faith and love of such a great mother, dedicate yourself for imitating her and to a special relationship with her, and wear the scapular as a a sign, as a reminder of the presence of Mary in your daily commitment to be close in Jesus Christ and to manifest Him in your life for the good of the Church and the whole of humanity, and to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity,” he said.

Elizabeth Rutaquio, 51, who serves as a nurse at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in New Windsor and is a parishioner of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Newburgh, came to the United States from the Philippines 30 years ago and remembers attending 4 a.m. Mass for the nine consecutive days in the Philippines.

Her 17-year-old son, Xaveor, was an altar server at the Mass in Middletown and read the second reading.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the Mass. “It brings me back to the Philippines. These were the songs we were singing in the Philippines.

“Every Christmas is so joyful in the Philippines.”

Edwin and Mary Ann Pacia, parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown, arrived in the United States from the Philippines in 1996 and attended previous Simbang Gabi Masses at the shrine before watching this year’s Mass via livestream from home as their family did the same back in the Philippines.

“After the pandemic, we are hoping and praying we will celebrate (the Simbang Gabi) Mass at the shrine with many people,” Mary Ann said.