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Larger ‘Simbang Gabi’ crowds expected in 2nd year of pandemic

/ 05:32 AM December 16, 2021

SOLEMN PREPARATION: The Nativity scene at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City, beckons as Catholic churches across the country open their doors for the start of the nine-day “Simbang Gabi,” or dawn Masses, on Thursday under more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — With pandemic restrictions increasingly relaxed, Catholics are expected to flock to churches starting today in bigger numbers compared to last year for the start of “Simbang Gabi,” one of the country’s most enduring Christmas traditions.

The dawn Masses start on Dec. 16 and culminate on Christmas Eve with the Misa de Aguinaldo.

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For the past several years, Valenzuela City resident Bern Irish Arguelles had served as a scriptwriter of the short Gospel plays performed as part of the Mass at the Parish of the Holy Cross church. But because she tended to be too preoccupied with the skits, she couldn’t concentrate on the Mass itself.

This year, Arguelles opted out of her playwriting task and decided to just watch from the pew so she could fully immerse herself in prayer.

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She said it was her way of showing gratitude for the blessings she received for the year. “It’s just a few days before we celebrate the birth of Christ, so it’s like a wrap-up of the whole year and a good time to reflect on how it went,” she told the Inquirer.

Many churchgoers believe that completing the novena is not only spiritually uplifting but also rewarding for those with specific wishes or petitions.

Arguelles said wish fulfillment was never her motivation. Still, she said: “What’s the harm in making a wish?”

Vaccination cards

With COVID-19 still a lingering threat, she said her church would be implementing strict safety protocols. “At the back of my mind I still worry, but I am quite confident (with the safety measures),” she said.

“They distribute cards so that the attendees would know where to sit. They also monitor the people inside and are asked to present vaccination cards before entering the church,” she said.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, churches were allowed to accommodate only 30 percent of their indoor capacity. Metro Manila then was under general community quarantine.This year, under a new classification of community restrictions, the capital is under alert level 2 which allows places of worship to use 50 percent of their indoor capacity and 70 of their outdoor spaces.

In the Parish of the Holy Cross, Arguelles said, churchgoers who could no longer be accommodated indoors are encouraged to just watch the service being livestreamed on Facebook.

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Same guidelines

In a dzBB interview on Wednesday, Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines public affairs committee, said that except for the increased indoor capacity, churches would still follow the same government guidelines issued last year.

Churchgoers must be fully vaccinated, he said, and the parishes would be counting on their “honesty’’ and “discipline.”

“If they would crowd the place, we may have to check them one by one,” Secillano said. “We appeal for their honesty so that when they enter the churches, order would be maintained.”

Individual parishes have the prerogative to set the schedule and frequency of the Masses.

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TAGS: Christmas 2021, midnight mass, Misa de Gallo, Simbang Gabi
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