I was deeply thinking of the very popular Christmas Novena in the Philippines, which we call as Simbang Gabi. This has a big impact in the lives of many Filipinos in preparing for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it has been carried by many Filipinos all over the world.

I worked in Zambia, Africa for almost 9 years, and sadly, we don't have that practice. Decorating houses was not even a priority. There is so much poverty in my mission and money is a necessity for survival. I was the only one decorating our church and the community. I wanted to introduce Simbang Gabi, but I failed. The distance of the houses are so far, and the presence of wild animals is always a threat to walk in the dark, or even alone during the day.

I was transferred to the Philippines in 2012, and after 12 years, I had the experience again of Simbang Gabi. This Filipino tradition is very unique and I truly anticipate for this occasion. As a priest in Manila, it is a bit tiring sometimes, to go to bed a little bit late preparing everything and the homily, and then to wake up as early as 2:30 or 3:00am for the logistics and others. We normally have Simbang Gabi in different parishes at 4:00am and 8:00pm. Indeed this occasion unites families; it brings together the family to attend the celebration, each with special intentions as they try to complete this nine-day devotion.

Since I grew also in this understanding, even as a priest celebrating, I have my daily intentions and special prayers for this season. We all understand that this is a preparation for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. As this is a very unique Filipino tradition, it indicates the depth of our faith in the Philippines.

In this year of Simbang Gabi, as I don't have the opportunity to do it daily here in Rome. As I live in the General House, a very international community, I would like to do a personal novena. This is in the same way for many Filipinos abroad who do not have the same opportunity. In my case, I would like to offer my novena to my mission in Chikowa, Chipata, Zambia. May this season bring them closer to the Lord, and that, they may also enjoy good health, in mind, body and spirit. I would also like to offer my special novena to the many Filipino Overseas Workers, specially those who are in places where there is suppression and difficulty in expressing their faith.

This year, we also celebrate the Year of the Clergy and the Religious, and the Pope is hoping for renewed servant-leaders, who would take good care of families, poor and needy. We pray, as for our special intention for the Simbang Gabi novena, for priests and consecrated men to be shining examples, living in the footsteps of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Our consecration is not for self-gratification but for the kingdom through our service to the people.

Enjoy your novena and as John the Baptist said: "Prepare always the way of the Lord."

  - Rev. Fr. Raul Tabaranza, MCCJ

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