All set for this year’s traditional Simbang Gabi as tens of thousands of Filipinos across the UAE – from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain – head to the church in what would yet again be the biggest annual event for Filipinos as they celebrate the birth of Christ and the UAE’s religious tolerance that has allowed them to practice their Catholic faith just as it was back home.
St Mary’s Catholic Church has, as part of preparations, posted a video invite on YouTube where Fr. Chito B. Bartolo OFM Cap, asst parish priest and Filipino community spiritual director, extends invitation to the Filipino community to once again come together for the Simbang Gabi.
“Magdasal tayo. Sumamba tayo. Magpasalamat tayo Manalangin tayo sa Diyos ng sama-sama upang ang ating mga panalangin ay diringgin nya at diringgin nya dahil tayo ay nagkaka-isa,” Fr. Chito said.
Themed, “Pasko ng Pagmamahal at Pagpaparaya,” (Christmas of Love and Tolerance), the Simbang Gabi or Evening/Dawn Mass will be held from Dec. 15 to 23 with two schedules: 4am and 8pm.
Emolyn “Tita Ems” Bucsit of the Simbang Gabi organizing committee told The Filipino Times that there are close to 1,000 volunteers put together for the event, including choir members, lay ministers, ushers and usherettes, as well as safey and medical teams which have undergone training to provide immediate help in cases of emergencies.
“We started planning around January to March. We want the Simbang Gabi to be well organized so that people will also enjoy the spirit of Christmas even while away from the Philippines,” Bucsit said.
Bucsit said the Simbang Gabi in past years had drawn up to 35,000 Filipinos every night.
Dubai is second home to 500,000 Filipinos; the total for the UAE is estimated at one million.
St Mary’s Catholic Church first started Simbang Gabi around 2000 led by Fr. Ed Dumawal, Filipino community spiritual director at the time, Bucsit said. The parish priest was established in 1967.
In Abu Dhabi, a Filipino group, the Katolikong Pinoy sa Abu Dhabi (KPAD), spearheads preparations for Simbang Gabi every year held at the St. Joseph Cathedral in the .
Abu Dhabi Filipinos will also have their Simbang Gabi from Dec. 15 to 23 at 8pm.
Crowd estimate could reach up to 6,000 on a weekend, according to Rommel Pangelinan, soil scientist with Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, who volunteers his free time for KPAD as technical director.
“We have a lot of preparations done. We have developed teams,” said Pangelinan.
Simbang Gabi is also held in Mussafah, an industrial district that is some 45 minutes away from Abu Dhabi by bus or car, organized by the Katolikong Pinoy sa Mussafah (KPM).
Narciso Callado, material controller and KPM head coordinator, said they will be providing free rides for churchgoers. “May nag-sponsor ng seven coasters na 33-seater each. Kukunin po natin ang mga kababayan sa mga malalayong lugar,” he said.
Simbang Gabi in Mussafah will be held at the St. Paul Church from Dec. 15 to 23 from 8pm.
Callado said a Christmas Tree lighting will open the first Simbang Gabi, which will also be highlighted by the singing of carols.
St. Paul Church was established in 2015 and has since held annual Simbang Gabi services with priests flown in from the Philippines for the purpose, Callado said, adding that a priest from Bulacan, Fr. Dexter Toledo will be holding mass this year.
“Since malayo tayo sa mga mahal sa buhay, makikita mo ang mga Pilipino, nararamdaman ang tunay na diwa ng pasko,” Callado said.
Video: FilCom–Research, Documentation and Information Ministry – St. Mary’s Catholic Church