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Pope urges Filipinos to continue being “smugglers of the faith”

Tiziana FABI | AFP

In a first, Francis celebrates the initial Mass of the Simbang Gabi Christmas novena at St. Peter’s

Pope Francis celebrated Mass with members of Rome’s Filipino community on Sunday evening, beginning with them the traditional Simbang Gabi Christmas novena.

This novena involves Masses traditionally held before dawn for the nine days preceding Christmas, in remembrance of Mary’s nine months of pregnancy.

It was the first time that a Successor of Peter has presided over the Mass, also known as the Aguinaldo Mass, though the special event has been held in previous years in St. Peter’s.

Some 150 priests concelebrated with the Holy Father, including the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Angelo de Donatis, and Father Leonir Chiarello, head of the Scalabrinians worldwide.

The chaplain for the Filipino community in Rome is a Scalabrinian Missionary (also known as the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo.)

In his homily, Francis said that as the world prepares to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation, of Emmanuel, “we must ask the Lord to renew the miracle of Christmas every year, offering ourselves as instruments of his merciful love towards the least and the lowest.”

There are more than 167,000 Filipinos residing in Italy, according to the Italian Ministry of Labor, and thousands of them requested to attend the Mass, but only about 7,500 were granted access, due to the seating capacity of the basilica.
Fr. Ricky Gente, chaplain for the Filipino community in Rome, addressed Pope Francis at the end of Mass:

“Almost 500 years ago, European missionaries planted the seed of faith in our beloved Philippines. We are happy and blessed because after five centuries we are here in Europe and throughout the world transmitting the joy and beauty of the Gospel,” Fr. Gente said.

“Before the celebration of the last World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father shared with me that Filipino women are ‘smugglers of the faith,'” the priest added.

Fr. Gente said that the Filipino community is a “happy and smiling people” because the “flame of faith continues to burn intensely in our hearts.”

The Filipino community offered the Holy Father an early birthday gift — a statue of Our Lady — as he turns 83 on December 17.

Pope Francis responded after receiving the gift: “Be smugglers of the faith!”

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