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Dozens attend St. Mary's Spanish Christmas Day Mass

Brandon Paykamian • Dec 25, 2017 at 4:57 PM

Each weekend, St. Mary’s Catholic Church holds four Masses, one of which is held in Spanish. And for Johnson City’s largely Catholic Hispanic community, attending St. Mary’s Spanish Mass on Christmas Day is an important part of celebrating the holiday. 

Father Peter Iorio said much of the growing congregation speaks English as a second language, making Spanish Mass at St. Mary’s an important part of the parish’s worship schedule throughout the year. 

“Each weekend, we have four Masses, one in Spanish at noon, and it’s the second highest attendance of the four,” he said. “I’d say out of our population, which is about 1,500 families total, about a quarter of them are Spanish-speaking and many speak English as a second language.”

In his 25 years of priesthood, Iorio has ministered in Spanish, English, Italian and French, and he has learned a lot about the different Christmas traditions of Catholics throughout the world. Though he said many across the world have their own Christmas traditions, some traditions have spread far beyond the realm of the Catholic Church. One of these Christmas traditions is something people from all cultures and religions are familiar with — the piñata.

“Many in Mexico have the tradition of Las Posadas, which is a nine-day prayer preparation for each night before Christmas and somewhat of a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph traveling and finding no place at the inn,” he said.

“The tradition of the piñata is also very much a part of that tradition after the praying. The piñata celebration is something I find very beautiful. It’s symbolic of the spiritual journey that they have blind faith and they have the stick, which is the symbol of their spiritual weapons. The people give them directions — up, down, left, right — to help them conquer evil. When it’s finally open, out come all the graces of God in the form of those symbolic treats that are inside.”

Iorio said much of the Hispanic community celebrates Christmas differently, depending on which region of Latin America they come from. But like all other Catholic traditions, he said Christmas — and the period leading up to it recognized as Advent — serves as a period for deep reflection about the life of Jesus Christ. 

“It’s a joyful celebration of hope,” he said. “Christmas, from an earthly perspective as it has grown for 2,000 years since the birth of Christ, is about tradition — song, food, celebration. For those who feel sadness or the loss of loved ones, it’s hard for them to participate in what the earthly view of Christmas is all about. But Christmas is all about God’s love coming to Earth, and if you reflect on what the scripture says about Mary and Joseph — these poor weary ones who were rejected from the inn and had to give birth in a manger — Christmas is for those people who are on the margins and on the brink of despair and feeling that lowliness.”

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