Advent traditions come together for Year of Faith

By Enedelia J. Obregón

Senior Correspondent

Parishes in the Killeen-area came together during Advent to celebrate the Nativity traditions of Las Posadas and Simbang Gabi. The traditions were combined by Servants of the Risen Christ Father Vincent Romuald to promote the Year of Faith in daily liturgical celebrations Dec. 15-23.

The celebrations began at St. Joseph Parish and proceeded to Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove, St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish in Harker Heights and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Hood.

Father Romuald, associate pastor at St. Joseph, came up with the blending of the two celebrations as opportunities for parishioners to appreciate the gift of faith, deepen their relationship with God and strengthen their commitment to sharing faith with others as called for in the Year of Faith by Pope Benedict XVI.

"Last year we did the traditional posadas," he said, noting that those are usually done in homes. "This year with the call to enrich, direct and educate we wanted something that would lead us back to church and the Eucharist."

Father Romuald, a monk in the order of the Servants of the Risen Christ in the Philippines, was in Houston prior to coming to St. Joseph almost two years ago. He received permission from Bishop Joe Vásquez in 2011 to incorporate several cultural traditions in the celebrations. Because of nearby Fort Hood, parishioners come from a variety of cultures: Filipino, Panamanian, African-American and Puerto Rican, to name a few. They are brought together by their common faith.

Many of those cultures celebrate Las Posadas, traditionally observed Dec. 16-24, which re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter prior to the birth of the Christ Child. Posada in Spanish means "lodging." Traditionally, people gather at dusk and the "pilgrims" led by an angel, Mary and Joseph go door to door singing for shelter. Hosts inside each home sing a reply. At the last stop, the hosts let the procession in and everyone is treated to a party.

Las Posadas is also celebrated in the Philippines along with Simbang Gabi, which also owes its origins to Spanish missionaries in the 17th century.

Since many Filipino farmers and fishermen began or ended their day at dawn, missionaries began having Mass as early as 4 a.m. Simbang Gabi is Tagalog –– a Filipino dialect –– for Night Mass, and is also celebrated Dec. 16 to 24. Through the years, Simbang Gabi became a religious celebration infused with Filipino customs and food.

Since it was typically dark when the churchgoers walked to Mass before dawn, people hung "parols," colorful star-like lanterns made of paper and bamboo to represent the star of Bethlehem, in their windows.

Luz Valiante, 85, made the 12 parols for St. Joseph with the help of her husband, Miguel, as she had in her youth in the Philippines.

Lily Cruz, president of the Cultura Filipina and the Filipino-American Dance Troupe, said it’s easy to lose cultural traditions when one leaves home. She left the Philippines at age 14.

"Sometimes our kids don’t even know the heritage," she said. "I remember other feast days like Santa Cruz and the Flores de Mayo (Feast of Mary)."

Myrna Martínez is originally from Panama. She said the different cultural celebrations are all united by one thing –– faith.

"It is Christ who brings us together," she said. "We may be from different cultures, but we are brought together by him."

Lois Carter, who is originally from Detroit, said seeing the different cultures at church make her "proud to be Catholic."

"It’s great the church is opening up and including us," she said. "For a while I was looking and searching for what I used to feel back home. Now I feel it again."

Each cultural group hosted a dinner after each Mass; therefore, the different groups were able to spend time in fellowship.

Father Romuald said that in 2011 the parishes did one activity together. In 2012, the parishes began planning for the nine-day December event in July.

Aside from the Novena, the cultural religious teachings were incorporated into religious education for youth and adult education during Advent.

"Every day there is a theme," he said. For example, one day the children in RE learned about the lives of saints and about emulating the virtues of holiness.

"Everything is about leading us back to God," Father Romuald said. "We help people anticipate the Second Coming with faith."

All the activities focused on the Eucharist at Mass, which is the ultimate truth, he said.

With so much focus on "facts" about the church, Father Romuald said people forget facts can be deceiving.

"Facts are not always truth," he said. "It’s fact that the Eucharist is bread. But it’s not just bread. It’s Christ. And that’s the truth."