Pope Francis’ appreciation of the hard work of Filipino migrant workers when he presided over the first Simbang Gabi Christmas novena touched many Filipinos.
It was the first time a pope celebrated the first day of the novena mass which came a week after Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was appointed as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Pope Francis, also known as “Lolo Kiko” to the Filipino public, expressed how thankful he was to overseas Filipino workers for spreading the Filipino tradition of the Simbang Gabi or the Misa de Gallo to other countries during Christmas season.
“In the Philippines, for centuries, there has been a novena in preparation for a blessed Christmas called, Simbang-Gabi (Mass of the night). During nine days, the Filipino faithful gather in their parishes for a special Eucharistic celebration,” the pope said in his homily.
“In recent decades, thanks to Filipino migrants, this devotion has crossed national borders and has arrived in many other countries,” he added.
Simbang Gabi normally starts from the dawn of December 16 to that of December 24.
Filipinos shared their gratitude for the pontiff’s recognition of OFWs.
Vatican celebrates its first Simbang Gabi in honor of the Filipinos!!! So beautiful!!! So much love Lolo Kiko!!! @Pontifex ❤️❤️❤️
— Yish (@yishaaang) December 15, 2019
Some Filipinos commented that Pinoys who attended the first Simbang Gabi at the Vatican were lucky.
— JOY🌟 (@MfrTiangco) December 15, 2019
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the total number of OFWs is estimated to be at 2.3 million between April and September 2018. This report was released last April 30.
Smugglers of faith
Pope Francis reminded overseas Filipinos of their “special mission” in spreading the Catholic faith.
“I encourage you to increase opportunities for meeting to share your cultural and spiritual wealth, while at the same time allowing yourselves to be enriched by the experiences of others,” he said to them.
Pope Francis ended the homily with a message that encourages the audience to practice charity.
“We are all called to practice charity together with those who live in the existential peripheries, using our different gifts to renew the signs of the presence of the Kingdom. Together, we are all called to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of salvation, in all languages, so as to reach as many people as possible,” he said.
By the end of the Mass, the pontiff also called on them to continue being “smugglers of the faith.”
This was a reference to how OFWs continue to practice their religion even in places around the world where it is dangerous to do so.