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Christmas dawn Masses kick off in Philippines

Worshippers can physically attend Masses for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic struck

Christmas dawn Masses kick off in Philippines

Catholic devotees attend a dawn Mass at a church in Las Pinas, suburban Manila, on Dec. 16 as part of traditional Christmas season celebrations. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 17, 2021 07:57 AM GMT

Updated: December 17, 2021 09:30 AM GMT

Catholics in the Philippines have begun their traditional dawn Masses to prepare for Christmas, the first to be held inside churches since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dawn Masses, known as simbang gabi in the Philippines, are a nine-day series of Masses attended by Filipino Catholics around the world between Dec. 16 and Christmas Eve.

The tradition originated during Spanish colonial rule when friars celebrated Mass early in the morning before farmers and fishermen began working on farms and setting out to sea.

People are able again to physically attend Masses after health authorities allowed churches to be occupied with a 50 percent seating capacity and gatherings outdoors on condition they observe health and social distancing guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“Last year church doors were closed due to the pandemic. Many of our parishioners attended the dawn Masses via their television sets or online. But now they can once again enjoy this unique pre-Christmas ambiance,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Dec. 16.

He also reminded attendees not to be complacent even though the majority of Filipinos were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

It is not the things that we buy as gifts that count but our sincerity to repent in order to welcome Jesus, the one true king

“We still need to observe some protocols like wearing masks at all times and observing physical distancing. Let us not put our guard down, especially now that the Omicron variant is present in the country,” he added.

People with underlying health issues were urged to avoid attending church in person.

The resumption of the tradition also saw Cardinal Jose Advincula celebrate his first dawn Mass at Manila Cathedral as Manila’s new archbishop.

Cardinal Advincula reminded Catholics not to forget the true spirit of Christmas, which was not dependent on material things but in the joy the season brought in the hearts of Catholics.

“Let us be reminded of the real joy Christmas brings in our hearts. It is not the things that we buy as gifts that count but our sincerity to repent in order to welcome Jesus, the one true king,” Cardinal Advincula said in his homily.

The cardinal also reminded Catholics that giving was the “true” essence of the yuletide season, especially to those who have nothing to eat like the victims of Typhoon Rai that slammed into the Philippines on Dec. 16, forcing more than 300,000 people from their homes.

“Let us remember those who were affected by the typhoon. Many of them have nothing left for Christmas. May these dawn Masses make us realize of our obligation to help our poor brothers and sisters,” he said.

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