While Simbang Gabi (night mass) has been held four times at the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, it was the first time that it was led by Pope Francis on Sunday, December 15.
In his homily, the Pope acknowledged the role of Filipino migrant workers in the growth of Catholicism, saying that while the Simbang Gabi has been held in the Philippines for centuries, “in recent decades, thanks to Filipino migrants, this devotion has crossed national borders and has arrived in many other countries.”
“You, dear brothers and sisters, who have left your land in search of a better future, have a special mission. Your faith should be leaven in the parish communities to which you belong. Today I encourage you to increase opportunities for meeting to share your culture and spiritual wealth while at the same time allowing yourselves to be enriched by the experiences of others,” he added.
The Pope also told the Filipinos to “continue being smugglers of faith,” referring to how overseas Filipino workers “smuggle” their faith even to places where it is dangerous to be Catholic like the Middle East.
Father Ricky Gente, chaplain of Filipinos in Rome, expressed his gratitude to the Pope before the end of the mass.
“Almost 500 years ago, European missionaries planted the seed of faith in our beloved Philippines. We are happy and blessed because after 5 centuries, we are here in Europe and throughout the world, transmitting the joy and the beauty of the Gospel,” he said.
“Yes, it is true, we carry with us, wherever we go, the torch of faith of the Gospel in the world — the same faith and Gospel that has been transmitted to us,” he added.
This was the first time a pope led a Simbang Gabi, highlighting even further the mark the Philippines is making on the global Catholic map after Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle was appointed as the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples by Pope Francis.
“In many spots on the Catholic map, including parts of the U.S., Filipinos today are the new Irish, meaning missionaries who keep local churches alive,” Veteran Vatican analyst John Allen had noted after Tagle’s appointment.