Simbang Gabi tradition a hallmark of deep Filipino faith, communities

January 13, 2015

HOUSTON — On the evening of Dec. 23, Betty Gounah probably passed at least 25 Catholic churches on her 62-mile journey from Galveston to Alief to attend Mass.

But that Tuesday night held special meaning for her, just as it did for the hundreds of other Filipino faithful who crowded the pews to attend the 2015 Grand Archdiocesan Simbang Gabi Mass at Notre Dame Church.

"I was one of those (Filipinos) who first came to Houston from the Philippines in 1962," said Gounah, who attends Holy Family Catholic Church in Galveston. "Seeing everybody here just brings back a lot of memories from back home."

Simbang Gabi, a beloved Christmas tradition for Filipino Catholics, is a devotional novena of Masses offered in anticipation of the Nativity and in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Philippines, the Masses are usually held in the early hours of the morning, but in Houston the Masses are celebrated in the evening to let more attend.

It was beautiful to see all the priests, and that most of the Houston parishes were represented, Gounah said.

Father Dwight Canizares, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Baytown, said he enjoyed seeing his fellow Filipino priests from across the Archdiocese.
"It's always wonderful, the ninth day. It's the culmination (of Simbang Gabi) and then to be celebrated by the Cardinal himself, what more can you ask?" Father Canizares said.

St. Joseph was one of nearly 30 parishes from Conroe to Nassau Bay that offered Masses for Simbang Gabi leading up to the culmination Mass concelebrated by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz, and attending Filipino priests of the Archdiocese.

"This beautiful long-standing tradition of the Filipino community to prepare for nine days for the feast of Christmas to pray, to pilgrimage, to discover — in your own parish and others — this message of preparation is a beautiful influence you can have on the diocese," Cardinal DiNardo said.

Cardinal DiNardo encouraged Filipino parishoners in Houston to share the beauty of the step-by-step preparation of Advent found in Simbang Gabi with others.

Following the Mass, which featured traditional Filipino worship lead by the Notre Dame Filipino and Couples for Christ choirs, a meal of Filipino food and beverages was served. For more information about Simbang Gabi and other events, contact the Filipino Ministry Council at