Philippines exports priests for Christmas Masses

Parishes abroad asking for Filipino priests to come and perform traditional 'Misa de Gallo'
Philippines exports priests for Christmas Masses

During the nine-day celebration of the "Misa de Gallo," Filipinos adorn their homes with star-shaped lanterns called "parol," which were believed to help parishioners before electricity was invented make their way to church in the early morning. (Photo by Jire Carreon)


Filipino priests are being "exported" this month for the "Misa de Gallo," the traditional nine-day early morning Masses that usher in Christmas in the Philippines.

Father Roy Bellen of the Office of Communications in Manila Archdiocese said some parishes abroad, especially in the Middle East, "borrow" priests from Manila for the celebrations.

"Because they know that we have this tradition, they request a Filipino priest," said Father Bellen, adding that foreign priests working with Filipino migrants "don't understand our culture."

He said that in several parishes abroad, Filipino priests officiate at the early morning Masses during the Christmas season.

Father Bellen said parishes in other countries where there are many Filipinos would usually write to priests back in the Philippines months before December conveying the request.

In Malaysia, a local church hosted the "Misa de Gallo" by inviting priests from Manila.

The idea for hosting the traditional Filipino Masses came from a local parish priest who wanted to express gratitude to Filipino workers and students in the country.

The Misa de Gallo, which became a Filipino tradition after the arrival of Spanish colonizers about 500 years ago, is a novena of Masses from Dec. 16 to Christmas Eve.

The celebration is held as early as 3 a.m. in several provinces. 

Pope Sixtus V ordered that the Mass be heard before sunrise because it used to be the harvest season in the Philippines, and farmers needed to be in the fields immediately after the celebration.

During the nine-day celebration Filipinos adorn their homes with star-shaped lanterns called parol, which were believed to help parishioners before electricity was invented make their way to church in the early morning.

After Mass, Filipino families share rice cakes, pastries, and other delicacies and drink hot chocolate. 

The Christmas season in the Philippines officially begins with the start of the Misa de Gallo and ends on the first Sunday of January on the feast of the Three Kings.

Father Bellen, however, warned those inviting priests to lead the traditional Filipino celebration to be wary of fake priests.  

"The protocol is for the priest to present his celebret or identification card to make sure that he is not fake," he said.

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Earlier this month, Manila Archdiocese warned the public about a person who has been posing as a Catholic priest and an exorcist.

The archdiocese received reports that a certain Father Cheeno Lledo was performing "exorcisms" around the capital.

In a circular, Bishop Francisco de Leon of Antipolo also issued the same warning about Lledo.

"He should not be allowed to celebrate Mass or perform religious rites in our chapels, churches or other places for our Catholic faithful," read the prelate's letter.

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