Faith and Spirituality

Cardinal Tagle, top Filipino churchman, leads Simbang Gabi at the Vatican

Robbin M. Dagle

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Cardinal Tagle, top Filipino churchman, leads Simbang Gabi at the Vatican

SIMBANG GABI. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, leads the Simbang Gabi at Saint Peter's Basilica on December 17, 2023.

Screenshot from Spym Rome/YouTube

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, one of the closest aides of Pope Francis, preaches against ‘fake identities and fake news’ as Filipinos pack the 20,000-seater Saint Peter’s Basilica

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino hymns rang out at Saint Peter’s Basilica, center of the Catholic Church built on the tomb of their first pope Peter, as Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle led the annual Simbang Gabi for Filipinos in Rome. 

Tagle, one of the most powerful Filipino bishops in the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history – rivaled in prominence only by the late Cardinal Jaime Sin – celebrated this liturgy in the Filipino language. With many of them wearing traditional attire like the barong or baro’t saya, Filipinos nearly filled the 20,000-seater basilica for the Mass at 1:30 pm (Rome time) or 8:30 pm (Manila time) on Sunday, December 17.

Saint Peter’s Basilica – built in 1506, or over a decade before Christianity arrived in the Philippines, and completed in 1615 – is a Renaissance church with Baroque elements where the Pope leads major Masses and events.

Tagle, often touted as a papal candidate, is the pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, the only Vatican department that the Pope himself leads. This makes the former Manila archbishop one of the Pope’s most trusted aides, the most prominent Asian prelate in the current Vatican bureaucracy.

Tagle was joined on Sunday by Cardinal Silvio Tomasi, who serves as special delegate to the Knights of Malta. 

According to Tagle, Filipinos are close to Tomasi’s heart because of his ministry to migrants. Tomasi previously headed the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and was the Holy See’s representative to the International Organization for Migration.

Simbang Gabi, literally “Night Mass,” is a Filipino tradition of attending nine consecutive masses at dawn or the evening in preparation for Christmas. Filipinos abroad find ways to continue celebrating the tradition not just to strengthen their faith, but also to build and sustain their community. 

Organized by the Sentro Pilipino Chaplaincy in Rome, the annual Simbang Gabi at the Vatican is not only an opportunity for migrants in Rome to gather, but has become a symbol of Filipinos’ importance and contribution to the church. In 2019, Pope Francis became the first pontiff to celebrate Simbang Gabi at Saint Peter’s Basilica, calling Filipinos “smugglers of the faith.”

‘Mabuhay sa katotohanan’

Clad in rose vestments, Tagle reflected on the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday.

Tagle exhorted the example of Saint John the Baptist, who is featured in Sunday’s Gospel reading. Despite his popularity then among the people, John the Baptist rejected speculation that he was the promised savior to the Israelites and, instead, proclaimed the coming of Jesus as the Messiah.

Papaano tayo magagalak? Mabuhay sa katotohanan. Sumaksi sa liwanag na si Kristo. At kilatisin ang kanyang presensya na kung minsan, hindi natin nakikilala na andyan pala siya sa ating piling,” Tagle said in his homily. (How do we become joyful? Live in the truth. Become witnesses to the light of Christ. And discern his presence, which at times, we don’t recognize even if He is already among us.)

Tagle also warned against fraudsters who take delight in deceiving others.

‘Yung iba kung umasta, parang sila ang may kapangyarihan sa mundo. Hindi, hindi ikaw. ‘Yung iba nagpapanggap, kayang solusyunan ang lahat ng problema sa mundo. Hindi, hindi ikaw. ‘Yung iba nag-iisip, ako ang nagmamay-ari ng kayamanan, pati ikaw na nagtratrabaho sa akin, pag-aari kita. Hindi po, hindi ikaw,” he said.

(Others act as if they have all the power in the world. No, it is not you. Others pretend that they can solve all the problems in the world. No, it is not you. Others think, I own all the riches, even those who work for them. No, it is not you.)

Dahil sa mga pagpapanggap na ‘yan, dumidilim ang mundo, kumakalat ang kadiliman at lalong dumarami ang naghihikahos at nawawala ng kasiyahan,” he said.

(Because of all these deceptions, the world becomes dimmer, darkness spreads, and many become poorer and are deprived of joy.)

‘Why live in fake identity, fake news?’

A popular figure on social media, Tagle recalled how he has become a favorite for fraudsters who have used his name to sell various products such as medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, portable air conditioners, milk, and tea.

At kung sino man po ‘yung numakaw ng identity ng iba, kawawa naman kayo. Meron naman kayong pangalan, meron naman kayong misyon. Bakit hindi ‘nyo ‘yun pangatawanan? Bakit kailangang mamuhay pa sa fake identity and fake news?

(Whoever is stealing others’ identity, I am sorry for you. You have your own names, your own mission. Why don’t you live it? Why live in fake identities and fake news?)

Tagle also told the Filipinos present to be living witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Sana po, hindi lamang kapag Pasko. Sa atin pong pang-araw araw na buhay, sa inyong trabaho, sa inyong pinagkakaabalahan, ipakita ‘nyo ang katotohanan ng pagiging Pilipino at sumaksi tayo sa liwanag na si Hesus, ang liwanag na laging gumagabay sa atin sa oras ng kadiliman, at maging bukas sa Espiritu Santo para makilatis ang kanyang presensya sa ating buhay,” he said.

(Hopefully, not just during Christmas. In our everyday lives, in your work, in whatever you do, show the truth of being Filipino and be witnesses of Jesus, our light who guides us in moments of darkness, and be open to the Holy Spirit to discern His presence in our lives.) –

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