'Let us pray for love': Filipino Christians keep Gaza in prayers as Simbang Gabi begins in Dubai

A Filipino tradition, Simbang Gabi is a devotional series of nine days of Masses leading to Christmas

by

Angel Tesorero

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KT Photos: Shihab
KT Photos: Shihab

Published: Sat 16 Dec 2023, 8:22 AM

Last updated: Sun 17 Dec 2023, 2:37 PM

The traditional Simbang Gabi, a devotional series of nine days of Masses leading to Christmas, started on Friday, and thousands of Filipino expatriates have once again started attending the Christian service at various churches across the UAE.

Aside from communal prayers and thanksgiving, the call for peace — particularly the end of hostilities in Gaza — is among the personal supplications by pious Catholics, who shared their thoughts with Khaleej Times.

Long-time Dubai resident Romer Mendoza, 41, is among the thousands of Filipino Christians who attended the first day of Simbang Gabi at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oud Metha. “I’m also praying for peace in Palestine,” he said, adding “Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago but now, in Palestine, innocent children are dying because of the incessant Israeli bombings.”

“We need to pray for peace and no less than Pope Francis is asking us to do this,” Mendoza added.

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‘Yes to peace’

On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the leader of the world's more than 1.3 billion Catholics said: "No to weapons, yes to peace", as he renewed his appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and the release of all hostages there.

“I continue to follow the conflict in Israel and Palestine with much worry and pain. I renew my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire — there is so much suffering there. I encourage all parties involved to resume negotiations, and call on everyone to make an urgent commitment to get humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” the Catholic Pontiff added.

The call by Pope Francis comes following the overwhelming passage of the resolution by the UN General Assembly demanding urgent ceasefire in Gaza, as more than 18,000 Palestinians have been reportedly killed and 50,594 more​​​​​​​ injured in the Israeli onslaught, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

Prayers for peace

With eyes closed and palms in prayer, Bernadette Bernabe, 32, also implored for peace in Gaza. She said after the mass: “I included in my prayers that reconciliation and harmony will reign in Palestine.”

Her compatriots Evelyn Tabaque, 44, and Divina Tagle, 53, also made the same prayers. With smile on their faces and brandishing the sign of peace, Tabaque and Tagle — who are both church volunteers, said: “The message of Christmas is hope and loving one another. It is a time for compassion, giving and sharing. As Christians, we implore on our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters to let peace reign on their land.”

Filipino student Vincent John T. Apelan, 15, who is also an altar boy, added: “We all support the call for peace. Let us pray for love, understanding and tolerance.”

Christmas carols

Meanwhile, in the spirit of joyful celebration, the usual singing of Christmas carols preceded the mass and St. Mary’s Catholic Church priest Fr Leny Escalada encouraged everyone to bring small gifts to share at the subsequent Masses.

Simbang Gabi is a Filipino Christmas tradition that began in the late 1600s during the Spanish colonial era. Filipino Catholics brought the tradition to the UAE in the early 2000 – but unlike in the Philippines where Simbang Gabi is held at dawn, the mass in the UAE is usually held in the evening.

According to former St Mary’s Church priest Fr Chito Bartolo, about 20,000 churchgoers attend every Simbang Gabi at St Mary’s Church in Dubai.

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