Filipinos usher in Christmas amid calls for peace

Priests lament divisions and violence caused by war on drugs and scrapping of peace talks with rebels
Filipinos usher in Christmas amid calls for peace

Filipino Catholics usher in Christmas with predawn Masses starting Dec. 16. The nine-day liturgical celebration has become a symbolic walk alongside the Virgin Mary in her final days of bearing the child Jesus. (Photo by Angie de Silva)


As Filipinos ushered in Christmas with traditional predawn Masses on Dec. 16, church leaders reminded Catholics to pray hard for peace and unity in the country.

An official of the bishops' conference noted that even religious and political leaders are at odds over policies that are being implemented by the government.

The country's Catholic and Protestant leaders have strongly condemned the government during a year of drug-related killings linked to the government's war on narcotics.

Priests and bishops also warned against the implementation of a birth-control program that allows the use of artificial contraceptives, some of which have been alleged to be abortifacients.

"We are at a crossroads," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs committee of the bishops' conference.

The priest appealed to Catholics to include the country in their prayers because "there are many warring factions in our society."

"Politicians are bickering. Church and state are at odds especially with the way policies our being formulated and implemented. So, we pray for reconciliation," said Father Secillano.

"Without pointing fingers, we see that our society is somewhat chaotic. Killings are happening everywhere, political bickering, issues are being hurled at each other," he added.

What the country needs is "a semblance of peace" especially as it celebrates Christmas, he said.


No Christmas truce with rebels

The government has already rejected calls for a Christmas ceasefire with communist guerrillas after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ended peace talks last month.

He also labeled the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army, as terrorist organizations.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he is not going to recommend a ceasefire because it will only leave soldiers vulnerable to attacks.

Last week, an ecumenical group of religious leaders appealed to Duterte to resume peace talks and declare a ceasefire over Christmas.

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The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform warned that "abandoning dialogue and relying on purely military might will be very costly."

The church leaders added that a "militarist approach" would only fan the flames of the conflict.

The government traditionally declares a ceasefire with rebels to allow soldiers and guerrillas to spend Christmas with their families.


Call for Christian-Muslim unity

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila meanwhule called for Christian-Muslim unity.

In his homily during a predawn Mass on Dec. 16 at the Manila Cathedral, the prelate urged Catholics to dispel discrimination by "bridging all gaps, fostering unions, and resolving conflicts."

"Let’s build relationships to destroy the wall that divides and often leads to violence and indifference," the Manila archbishop said.

Cardinal Tagle reminded the people how Muslims helped Christians in Marawi when terrorist gunmen attacked the southern Philippine city in May.

He called for prayers for the victims of the conflict that affected close to 400,000 people.

"What we need now is to be at peace with each other, to come together, to stop wars, and to end selfishness," said the prelate.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle calls for unity in his homily during the predawn Mass that ushers in Christmas in the country on Dec. 16. (Photo by Maria Tan)



Christmas tradition

Tradition plays a big role in the Filipino people’s observance of Christmas, including making a wish at the start of nine-day predawn Masses called "Misa de Gallo."

Father Secillano said that aside from wishing something personal, Filipinos need to wish for something better for the country.

"Let us try to somehow go beyond our personal issues. Let us always look at what should be good for our society, for our country," he said.

"Misa de Gallo," starting Dec. 15, ushers in Christmas in the Philippines.

Since the time of the Spanish colonizers, the predawn Mass has undergone little liturgical innovations. It has become a symbolic walk alongside the Virgin Mary in her final days of bearing the child Jesus.

The liturgy of the "Misa de Gallo" is exultant, unlike the penitential mood of the Advent Mass. The priest celebrant wears white vestments and the Gloria is also sung.

In some churches, a Nativity scene gradually appears near the altar by adding one one item a day, thus, on the first day, people will see the stable, the next day straw is added, then the animals and so on, until on Christmas Eve the baby Jesus is finally placed in the manger. 

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