By Sister Helen Libo-on
An effort to get closer to God!
In the Philippines, we have the tradition of praying the nine days of novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary before celebrating the Feast of the Nativity. Each day of the novena is celebrated with a mass at dawn, which is at 4 a.m. This is the time of the day when the cocks, chickens and roosters are waking the people up through their different sounds. It is the peaceful moment that follows which allows the people to contemplate in silence the Gospel for the day.
Recently, it has become a more popular belief that this novena is the time to ask any petition from God; all are assured that God will answer their needs. More and more people embrace this devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This is also a time when parishioners relate more closely to each other. After the dawn mass, people from different chapels take turns serving snacks to those who attend, especially the children. Last year, because of the pandemic, parishioners were not able to do it, but this year, all are looking forward to it.
Similarly, as practiced in many countries, we prepare the “Belen,” the nativity scene in the church. As days pass by, more characters are present, except the Baby Jesus, who will be placed in the scene on Christmas Eve. Some have dramatized it by having live persons playing the characters: Mary, Joseph and Jesus, with many little angels caroling to the little baby in the manger.
All these traditions are efforts by the Catholic Church to bring people closer to God. After 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, we can now say: “We are gifted to give!” We are so grateful to God that we are given this faith and are able to spread it throughout the whole world. Our overseas Filipino workers and missionaries give strong witness that we are doing our part to proclaim the Good News, spreading God’s Mercy on Earth!
In the Philippines, there are many Christians, as well as our brothers and sisters who are Buddhist, Muslim and those who belong to different religions. An important event in our history came at the time of the Spanish rule. Our Muslim brothers were the protectors of our forests, and many lost their lives when the timber companies cut all the lumber for foreign consumption.
We have learned to live together, and the relationships continue to evolve. In the past, there have been many armed conflicts. In Mindanao, towards the end of November, we now celebrate the Mindanao Week of Peace. A group of Church leaders and Muslim leaders was organized to settle differences in the practice of religion. In this manner, we learn to respect each other’s faith, traditions and practices.
The increasing number of mixed marriages among young people also has helped in accepting one another. As these marriages increase, we learn to love and respect each other’s faith and beliefs. One thing that is common to both Catholics and Muslims is the love and respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Also, both religions oppose the practice of abortion. This is a real blessing to our country.
Now, when Christmas comes, not only are Christians decorating with Christmas ornaments in their homes, but also the Muslims! Even the government now includes Muslim holidays along with the Catholic Church’s holidays on the calendar. An effort to get closer to God!