12/17/2008, 00.00
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In the Philippines Christmas celebrations begin with “Simbang Gabi”, the predawn Mass

by Santosh Digal
Novena features predawn Masses, a tradition that goes back to the dawn of Spanish colonial rule in the country. The faithful pray for their family and peace in the country and the world. Police intensifies checks to prevent violence.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Novena celebrations in the Philippines began with predawn Masses, an old tradition during which the faithful prepare themselves to celebrate the birth of Christ. The pealing of bells calling them to Mass, lanterns lighting on their way, carols heard everywhere they go—all these are part of the “Misa de Gallo” or “Simbang Gabi” (rooster Mass) in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the faithful pray intensely for the Filipino family and for peace in the country and the world.

The first of nine predawn Masses began yesterday and is set to culminate in the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. This practice is rooted in the history of the Philippines, brought over centuries ago by Spanish colonists, recorded for the first time in the 17th century.

Before Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972, the Simbang Gabi was celebrated only at 4 am. Because of the curfew, the Catholic Church was eventually compelled to adjust the schedule and began holding the Mass at 5 am or even later, a decision many Filipinos still deplore.

“The curfew destroyed the whole tradition,” Fr Genaro Diwa, director of the archdiocese’s Ministry for Liturgical Affairs, said.

For the faithful who take part in the Simbang Gabi there is another problem, namely the danger posed by street gangs and individual criminals who pray upon people going to Mass under the cloak of darkness to carry out robberies or abductions.

For this reason police usually steps up its patrols along the main roads that lead to places of worship, advising people to move in groups and choose well-lighted places.

Law enforcement is also forced to increase measures against illegal fireworks.

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