Filipinos Celebrates A Christmas Tradition
Once again the Filipino community in the greater Danbury area got together
at St. Joseph Church in Brookfield, CT and celebrated Misa Aguinaldo last
Saturday, December 17, 2005.
It is a traditional Advent Mass that goes back more than 400 years ago
in the Philippines. It is also known as Misa de Gallo because it is usually
celebrated in the early morning hours when roosters crow to herald the
dawn of a new day.
The Filipinos so love Christmas that if there were no Christmas to celebrate
they would invent it. But the Filipinos in the United States are not crazy
enough to hold the mass at 4 oclock in the morning the way they
do in the Philippines. No priests or laymen, Filipino or American, would
be willing to give up the warmth of their bed at that unholy hour and
venture out into the cold and snow of December.
Two hundred people attended the 6:30 evening mass officiated by Fr. Bernabe
DeLa Cruz, a Filipino priest from St. Joseph Church in Willimantic, CT.
Fr. Samuel Scott and Deacon Peter Kuhn assisted in the celebration of
the mass. Filipino priests usually speak alternately in English and Tagalog
in their sermon, Fr. DeLa Cruz did the same in his homily on Marys
acceptance of her role in mankinds salvation.
The prayers of the faithful were said in English and in the six major
regional dialects Tagalog, Ilokano, Bicolano, Panpango, Cebuano
The mass featured two distinctly Filipino rites the childrens
flower offering to Virgin Mary and the childrens kissing the hand
of the priest in thanksgiving for their Christmas gifts.
The Himig ng Silangang Choir of the FAAWC (Filipino-American Association
of Western Connecticut) sang the hymns and Christmas carols in Tagalog.
Elaine Valera conducted the choir and Dr. Lalaine Mortera played the piano
accompaniments. Dr. Jerome Cariaso and Didette Tecson rendered a couple
Guest violinist Larry Deeming added to the solemnity of the celebration
with his rendition of Oh Holy Night and Bachs Jesu, Joy of Mans
After the mass the people trooped to the gymnasium for the dinner/reception
and childrens Christmas pageant the Nativity scene. This
was the highlight of the celebration that brought joy to both young and
Jules Niedermeyer played the role of Mary, Raffie Santayana that of St
Joseph, and the Three Kings -- Andre Durante, Patrick Relator and Charlsen
Springael. The rest of the children were shepherds, angels, narrators,
and choir singers. Herbert Cledera conducted the childrens choir.
Jack Pretto and his fellow American friendsSteve Maniscalco, Mohamed
Shitia and Calvin Day-- performed a surprise number a Filipino
folk dance called the Maglalatik. Its a lively dance performed to
the beat of coconut shells attached to the body of the dancers.
Herbert Mortera, FAAWC president, thanked the members who helped in the
celebration. He quoted the words of the Fr. Paul Lalic, former parish
priest of St. Joseph: You can take the Filipinos out of the Philippines,
but you cannot take the Philippines out of the Filipinos.
Two men who played significant roles in the celebration of the mass came
from different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common from
an early age they knew what they wanted to be.
Larry Deeming said his older sister Betsy inspired him. She started
playing the piano, so I played the piano. Two years later she took up
violin, and I followed her. I have been playing the violin since then.
Mr. Deeming played with the Hongkong Philharmonic Orchestra for seven
years. He met his Filipina wife Helen in Hongkong. They have two children
Amanda, 7 and Collin James, 5, but in spite of that his mother
Mary Deeming insists on calling him My Little Boy.
His trip to the Far East resulted in a musical project appropriately called
Journey to the East, a CD that he and his friends put together.
It is a labor of love, he said.
The exotic Oriental music required the use of equally exotic instruments
such as the Bulgarian tambura, African thumb pianos, strumstick, Chinese
banjo, khaen, sheng, dumbek, tabla, shakers, cymbals and timpani. The
result is hypnotic, haunting, soothing -- reminiscent of Persian and Indian
rhythms that make you imagine belly dancers, mosques and minarets. Of
the Filipino celebration of Christmas, Mr. Deeming said, I love
the spirit of fun and great food.
Mr. Deemings parents encouraged his love of music and opened his
mind to other cultures. On the other hand Fr. Bernabe DeLa Cruz had to
overcome his fathers objection to his religious vocation. As
a child I knew I wanted to be priest, said Fr. DeLa Cruz. I
usually played the part of a priest in games with my friends. My father
did not want me to study for the priesthood. He told me to enroll at the
Central Mindanao University. I did and graduated with a bachelor degree
in agriculture, major in animal husbandry. But after graduation, I told
my father that I have followed his wish, now its my turn to follow
my vocation. I was accepted at the Divine Word Seminary in Tagaytay, Cavite.
My father disowned me and for six years he was angry with me. Then he
relented. Its hard to fight God. If you want to be a priest,
go ahead, but be the best priest you could be. He did not see as
a priest. He died before I was ordained.
Fr. DeLa Cruz came to United States in 2002 and studied a non-degree program with the
Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. He was on loan from the Diocese of Malolos, Philippines to
the Diocese of Norwich, CT. He now serves at the St. Joseph Church in Willimantic, CT.
There are no Filipinos in Willimantic. This is the first time for me to celebrate
Misa Aguinaldo in America. I miss the food, music and ambience of a Filipino
Jaime Cardinal Sin once described the Filipinos as a pilgrim people because they carry
their faith with them wherever they go and live. A homesick priest, Fr. DeLa Cruz felt at
home here in Danbury.