A ‘PASKONG PINOY’ SPECIAL FEATURE
‘Simbang Gabi’ online on INQUIRER.netBy Matikas Santos
Monsignor Rolando dela Cruz of Paco Parish in Manila invites people to hear the nine-day “Simbang Gabi” on INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines — With Pope Benedict XVI making himself available on Twitter, a Catholic Church here is taking the same path by allowing the traditional Christmas dawn masses or “Simbang Gabi” online for Filipinos in the country and overseas.
As part of its annual commitment to bring Christmas to OFWs through its “Paskong Pinoy” special site, INQUIRER.net, a member of the Inquirer Group of Companies (IGC), will cover the nine-day masses at the San Fernando De Dilao Parish or Paco Parish in Manila beginning December 16. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle will celebrate the first day of the “Simbang Gabi” that will start at 4 a.m.
Monsignor Rolando Dela Cruz, in an exclusive interview, said that they were adapting to the new technologies in order to take advantage of the vast number of people that are online.
Dela Cruz, 53, has been the parish priest of Paco Parish since May 1, 2010. He was previously assigned in Saint Anthony of Padua Parish in Manila from 2001 to April 2010 and before that, at the San Roque Parish in Pateros from 1997 to December 2001. He was ordained as a priest by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin in October of 1985.
“The teachings remain the same, the teachings of Christ will not change. But the means of spreading the teachings should adapt, and the church is adapting,” Dela Cruz said.
“Now even the Pope has a twitter account (@pontifex), he is also using the modern social communications in order to spread the Gospel. I don’t see anything wrong with the Internet as long as it is used properly,” he said.
“The Internet is a gift, but it can also be misused,” Dela Cruz said.
“That is the warning being given by the church. Here is the way [for social communication], use it to do good and not evil,” he added.
The Web coverage of the dawn masses will be good for those who don’t have a chance to personally go to church as well as for the Filipinos all over the world, Dela Cruz said.
“I’m very happy that we have been chosen by INQUIRER.net to be the venue of the Simbang Gabi masses. It will be appropriate for the people who don’t have a chance to go to church, or if there are no churches in countries where Christians are a minority,” he said.
“We are providing them with the avenue by which they can still participate and spiritually prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus on Christmas day,” Dela Cruz said.
There are an estimated 10 million Filipino workers and migrants distributed all over the world, a large portion of who are in the Middle East and in the United States.
Faith, Family, and Food
Despite many Filipinos living in a foreign land, they have managed to retain their strong Christian faith, Dela Cruz said. This faith is one of the three traits that make the Filipino Christmas celebration unique, the other two being family and food.
He cited the thanksgiving mass celebrated in one of the basilicas in Rome after Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s appointment by Pope Benedict XVI in November this year as a very good example of the Filipino’s strong faith.
“Almost two-thirds of the basilica was filled-up and they were all Filipinos,” Dela Cruz said.
“Cardinal Tagle said in his homily that he was very happy because we were able to fill up the Basilica of Saint Peter. [Faith] is a gift that should not be forgotten by Filipinos even in those countries where they are a minority,” he said.
Dela Cruz also said that the Filipinos’ close family ties make the Christmas celebrations in the Philippines a unique event.
“Christmas is one of those days in the year when Filipino families gather to celebrate,” Dela Cruz said. He remembered that when he was a child, his grandparents would always be looking forward to the visit of relatives.
“After the mass my grandparents would be waiting for [my cousins] and each one would bless, not expecting anything other than to simple see my grandfather and grandmother,” he said.
“I think those who are abroad miss [celebrating with their family] and that is why there are so many OFWs trying to come home during Christmas, so that they can spend their Christmas and New Year’s [Eve] with their own loved ones,” he added.
And when it comes to food, Dela Cruz said that Filipinos always have food served for any occasion.
“Noche Buena, Medya Noche, there can be no celebration without food and we like food so much that anything can be an occasion to eat, anything can be a reason to eat,” he said referring to the two feasts held on the eve of Christmas day and New Year’s day.
Season of Advent
The Philippines is known worldwide for having the longest Christmas celebrations which begin as early as September. Dela Cruz however said that this has led people to forget the Season of Advent.
He said that the downside of Filipinos’ love to celebrate was that they become weary once the Advent Season, or the four Sundays before Christmas, comes.
“If people are already playing and signing Christmas carols as early as September, the danger there is once Christmas day and Christmas season arrives, people are already tired,” Dela Cruz said.
“When actually, the celebrations has just begun. I think that is also the value of Advent Season, it is the period during which we are encouraged to prepare ourselves spiritually, to wait with expectant hope and not to forget that it’s a special day that were looking forward to,” he said.
Dela Cruz hopes that people will not forget that Jesus is the reason for the entire season.
“Despite all the external preparations like putting up lanterns, putting up Christmas trees, deciding what to prepare for the Noche Buena, I hope that we may not forget that Jesus should be at the center of the celebrations,” he said.
The dawn masses at San Fernando De Dilao Parish in Paco can be viewed on http://www.inquirer.net/paskong-pinoy
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