By Lydia O'Kane
Pope Francis on Sunday afternoon is presiding over Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the Filipino community living in Rome.
It's the Simbang-Gabi or Dawn Mass, which is celebrated for nine consecutive days before Christmas and is traditional in the Philppines.
The Philippine ambassador to the Holy See Grace Relucio-Princesa and the country’s Ambassador to Italy Domingo Nolasco will also be attending.
Filipino Sr Victoria Victorino is a member of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master and is attending Sunday's Mass. She describes the Pope’s participation as very significant, because she says, it gives a sense of hope for the community, “especially for those who are suffering; those who are looking for some comfort.”
Pope Francis is no stranger to the Philippines, having made an Apostolic Visit there in 2015. Sr Victorino notes that the Filipino people were very grateful to Pope Francis for coming to their country following a devastating Typhoon that hit the country. “That’s how dear to him are the Filippino people, so we are very grateful for that”, she says.
Speaking about the devotional nine day series of Masses that precede Christmas, she says “you just get carried away”. “It’s the devotion of the people, you feel it; you see parents bringing their kids, the babies even for that special blessing.” The Filipino people, she stresses, take devotion seriously.
Asked how she would describe the faith of the Filipino community in Rome, Sr Victorino comments that the Christian faith in Italy is one of the reasons why people from her country chose to come here. “It’s really because it’s still a Christian country, where the faith, even if you don’t see it, you feel it; it’s still alive”.
The remaining Masses in the lead up to Christmas will be celebrated at Rome’s Santa Pudenziana Basilica, home to the Filipino community in Rome.