MANILA — In a historic first, Pope Francis celebrated Simbang Gabi at the Vatican on Sunday and told thousands of Filipinos there to be "smugglers of the faith."
In the Philippines, where nearly 9 in 10 are Christians, millions of Catholics flock to churches for the 9-day pre-dawn Masses before Christmas.
The tradition "has crossed national borders and has arrived in many other countries," thanks to Filipino migrants, Pope Francis was quoted as saying by the Catholic News Agency.
This is first time that a pope celebrated Simbang Gabi at the Vatican, said the CNA.
Filipinos gave the pontiff a Marian statue as a gift ahead of his Dec. 17 birthday, prompting him to urge the community to "be smugglers of the faith," said the report.
"We are all invited to build together that communion in diversity that constitutes a distinctive trait of the Kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, Son of God made man,” he said, according to CNA.
"We are all called to proclaim the Gospel together, the Good News of salvation, in all languages, so as to reach as many people as possible."
Italy is home to some 167,000 Filipinos, according to its labor ministry.
"We carry with us everywhere we go the torch of faith and of the Gospel in the world, the same faith and Gospel that have been transmitted to us," Fr. Ricky Gente, chaplain for the Filipino community in Rome, quoted as telling Pope Francis after the Mass.
"This is why today, here in front of you, you find a happy and smiling people because the flame of faith continues to burn intensely in our hearts," Gente added.