Pope Francis presides over historic Simbang Gabi for Filipinos in Rome

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Pope Francis presides over a historic Simbang Gabi (Mass) for Filipinos Sunday at St. Peter’s Square. (Photo courtesy Vatican News)

MANILA, Philippines – In what could be one historic religious affair, a Pope has presided over – for the first time — a “Simbang Gabi” for Filipinos, which has been held a few times in the past at the basilica and not with the Pontiff around.

The mass was held at exactly 4:30 p.m. in Rome (10:30 p.m. Sunday Manila time).

Pope Francis was assisted by around 150 priests including Cardinal Vicar Angelo de Donatis, the Vicar of Rome, and Rev. Fr. Leonir Chiarello, head of the Scalabrinians worldwide. (The Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo or Scalabrinian Missionaries are a Roman Catholic religious institute of brothers and priests founded by Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza in Italy, in 1887.)

A reporter of the Manila Bulletin in Rome said Philippine Ambassador to the Holy See Grace Relucio-Princesa and the country’s envoy to Italy Ambassador Domingo Nolasco also attended the celebration.

“This is the fourth year that we celebrate it in the basilica but the first time that the Pope will be the one to preside,” Scalabrinian Fr. Ricky Gente of the Filipino Chaplaincy in Rome said in a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News post.

“We have thousands of Filipinos who requested entry but we are not allowed to go beyond the sitting capacity of the basilica,” Fr. Gente said. Only about 7,500 mass goers will be allowed entry to the basilica because of limited space, he said.

The remaining eight of the nine-day holy masses will be held in the fourth century Santa Pudenziana Basilica, the official church of the Filipino community in Rome that was designated by Saint John Paul II.

Known as “Simbang Gabi”, the Misa de Aguinaldo is an age-old tradition observed by many Filipinos around the world.

In the country, anticipated “Simbang Gabi” masses will be held starting Saturday night to accommodate devotees who cannot attend the dawn masses which begin tomorrow. Mass attendees hope to meet the challenge of completing the nine-day holy masses in the belief that their petitions will be granted.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholics mark the Third Sunday of Advent as Gaudete Sunday, a Sunday of joy, to highlight the nearness of the Nativity of Christ.

According to Church leaders, “Gaudete Sunday signifies the nearness of the Lord’s second coming. The observance reminds the faithful to meet the coming Savior with prayers, supplication, and thanksgiving.”

The entrance antiphon in today’s masses, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” (Gaudete in Domino semper) serves to remind the faithful of the significance of Christ’s birth. Church rites will include the lighting of the sole pink candle, the candle of joy, in the Advent wreath, to emphasize the shift in focus from the penitential mood of the first two Sundays of Advent to the joyous expectation of Christ’s birth. The two purple candles, which symbolize penance and hope respectively, will also be lit. (IAMIGO/CNS)

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