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Concert in San Francisco heralds novena of ‘Simbang Gabi’
September 2nd, 2009

A concert by the internationally known Philippine Madrigal Singers heralds Advent and the centuries-old Filipino tradition of Simbang Gabi Oct. 23 at Holy Name of Jesus Church in San Francisco.

“From my perspective, the concert will bring memories of the Philippine celebration of Simbang Gabi,” said Nellie Hizon, a member of St. Stephen Parish. “Here are world-renowned Filipino artists contributing their efforts to the San Francisco celebration of Simbang Gabi.

Though a tradition of the Philippines, Hizon said there is room for all. “Simbang Gabi is a celebration that speaks to all people of every ethnicity,” she pointed out. “We are celebrating a novena of Masses in the early morning hours leading up to Christmas. Add to that the natural hospitality of the Filipinos and an experience coming from the rural Philippines in ancient days.”

Hizon said she became aware of the celebration taking hold here some 15 years ago and that the nine-day prelude to Christmas has been a part of St. Stephen Parish since 1996. The organization of the novena is a grass-roots project, Hizon said. “This model, where the leadership comes from the people, speaks of the Vatican II encouragement for lay people to take leadership roles in the life of the Church.”

Today, according to Hizon, more than 30 parishes throughout the Archdiocese of San Francisco, including St. Stephen, participate in the Simbang Gabi novena.

“Most churches are filled whether their liturgies are in the morning or evening,” Hizon said, noting that the traditional early-morning schedule has been amended due to “demands on our time.” Hizon said the increasing awareness of Simbang Gabi should lead to larger crowds this year.

San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice is principal celebrant of a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the Simbang Gabi ministry Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Gough and Geary Blvd. in San Francisco. Hizon said that more than 20 priests concelebrated the Mass in 2008.

Simbang Gabi celebrations begin Dec. 15 in parishes with an evening schedule and Dec. 16 in those with a morning schedule. Parishioners should watch parish bulletins for further information, Hizon said. Hizon can be reached at

Tickets for the Madrigal Singers concert are $25 each. Call (415) 699-7927, (415) 564-0323, or e-mail


From September 4, 2009 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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