Annual Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado tradition goes on amid the pandemic

by Ricky Rillera

Fr. Patrick Longalong and Consul General Petronila Garcia await the lighting of the first parol of Simbang Gabi, Kaluwalhatian | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video

NEW YORK – Nothing’s going to stop the community from observing a time-honored tradition, not even during a pandemic.

After several weeks of preparation, the first day of the traditional 32nd Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado with the theme Maluwalhati at Mapayang Pasko sa Panahon ng Pandemya got off the ground with the lighting of the first parol on December 3. The Kaluwalhatian Parol, the first of nine parols of the event, symbolizes the unique Filipino spirit and joy at Christmas as they usher in the season with prayer and solidarity.

Consul General Petronila Garcia delivers her remarks during the Memorial Service | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video

Ave Pimo, the presenter, also said that it illustrates the “light of the Lord’s majesty shining on the people of the earth reminding them of dark times that they are His children through Jesus. They are heirs of God’s Kingdom.” Each parol represents Filipinos’ community spirit and values aspirations, said Consul Arman Talbo, the event’s moderator.

The event that brought the community together during Advent since 1988 on a more festive mood and merriment of people through the years, now observed virtually in somber tone due to the coronavirus pandemic roaring back in this city. However, it did not diminish their enthusiasm to continue the annual tradition as more than 50 organization-partners joined in its preparation.

In her remarks, Consul General Petronila Garcia acknowledged the immensity of the situation. “The year 2020 has been, and continues to be, very difficult and challenging for all of us,” she said. “For many who lost loved ones due to COVID-19, or are currently infected, this year has brought immeasurable pain and suffering.”

She said that everyone had been affected, from small business owners, particularly restaurant owners, to people who lost their jobs to teachers, healthcare professionals, and essential workers serving at the front lines to young students.

But her words of encouragement spoke louder. “It is also during difficult and challenging times that we must stand resolute as a community and let our bayanihan spirit and resilience shine. As Consul General, I note and take pride in the bayanihan spirit of our Fil-Am communities in the U.S. Northeast.”

She said the theme is a “timely tribute to our faith, resiliency, and love for peace as a people.”

Fr. Patrick Longalong celebrating the mass of Simbang Gabi sa Konsulado | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video
Select members of the community in attendance at the Philippine Center | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video

Fr. Patrick Longalong celebrated the mass with TOFA Performing Artists, Bukas Palad, Himig Hesuwista, and Voice of Friendship Singers providing the songs in between the service. Special guests Jireh Dalusong from the Philippines and Jeline Barut from the U.S. performed a violin duet cover of Amazing Grace.

The organizers also held a memorial service in honor of fallen community members due to COVID-19 after the mass with Deputy Consul General Kerwin Orville Tate leading the tribute. “This is a tiny token of condolences for the families who have lost their loved ones,” he said. “Those who are left behind have a duty to remember them when we consider the value of each life lost.”

DCG Kerwin Orville Tate delivering his tribute to COVID-19 heroes | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video
Consul Arman Talbo reading the names of Filipino Americans who have passed due to COVID-19 | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video

He continued: “We have a word for the value of life – precious, and for those who serve others above themselves – heroes.” He enjoined everyone to honor the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who feared the virus, “but they remained brave and strong, giving care because they gave everything they had to save others.”

For her part, Consul General Garcia said the Philippine Center was among the first offices to report an infection but was not fatal. “But Advent is a season hope. For those we lost this year, amidst the grief of the bereaved, we look to the heavens for the hope of God’s offered salvation. We dedicate this day to honor and remember their memories, especially at Christmas when we feel so much the pain of their absence. Empty chairs at our tables, their presence forever missed.”

Dr. Warli Remigio delivers his remarks in honor of his fellow doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video
The TOFA Performers singing their opening act | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video
Jeline Barut from the US and Jireh Dalusong performing their violin duet cover of Amazing Grace | Photo grabbed from PCGNY video

DCG Tate, consuls Talbo, Ricarte Abejuela III, and vice-consul Tanya Ramiro took turns in reading the names of those who had perished – a total of about fifty of them in the list. Dr. Warli Remigio, president of the Philippine Nurses Association, also gave his remarks in honor of his fellow healthcare frontliners.

The frontliners are the unsung heroes. They have exerted insurmountable efforts and selfless sacrifices, working long hours, staying away from home from their loved ones, and taking health risks, faced with uncertainties while adapting to chaotic and constantly changing situations, he said. “These heroic deeds amidst this turmoil are indeed outstanding,” Remigio said. “They have devoted courage, grit, resilience, and innate compassion.”

The Simbang Gabi will continue until December 11. Each day is participated by a set of partner-organizations of the consulate.

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