Holy Week Observance

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June 1st 2008
Published: June 1st 2008
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During the Holy Week, I happened to read a news item in a local paper about an unusual celebration of Lent in Barangay Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga. I was staying in an hotel in Manila then, trying to cool my heels off inside an air-conditioned room after my daily travel to popular tourist spots in the city. Everyday in late March and April, it was unusually hot in Manila, more so in Central Luzon and in other parts of the country. Holy Week is observed with deep seriousness by a predominantly Christian nation like the Philippines. As early as Monday, every church in the country and in almost every barangay would erect a makeshift structure with chairs and tables and decorations of religious ornaments/photos depicting the Passion of the Cross or the suffering of Jesus Christ. This structure would be the center of activity to observe a timeless tradition called "Pabasa", where the life and death of Jesus Christ is celebrated and sung aloud. Residents would take turns to sing the poetic passages on the life of Jesus Christ. In Barangay Cutud, meanwhile, I read in the news that it was observing the Lenten season with a creative Passion play highlighted with a dramatic and extreme portrayal of the death of Jesus Christ. In the presentation, which I learned is being held yearly, groups of male devotees would take their turn to be Jesus Christ and carry a wooden cross to a makeshift hill depicting Calvary, and will be nailed to the cross, with real nails piercing both of their hands. This extreme observance of Holy Week in this part of Pampanga expectedly drew enormous attention from local and foreign tourists and hundreds of religious onlookers, including members of local and national media. So I went there on Good Friday which was the day that the religious event would take place. When I arrived in the area, it was already overflowing with people from all walks of life. I would say they numbered in the thousands, as the wide open field where the nailing to the cross would be held was literally crowded. It was physically impossible to move from one spot to the other to have a good view of the presentation. Foreign broadcast and TV people, including cameramen and journalists with their movie cameras and long lenses were also in attendance. The sweltering heat of the day was just overpowering and some individuals would faint and had to be attended to by emergency personnel. Nevertheless, people would continue to converge in the area. A lot would join in the long procession where local actors dressed in costumes of the period would dramatize the suffering of Jesus Christ that would later lead to his carrying a wooden cross and being nailed to it at the mount of Calvary. The unfolding presentation that day continued with amazing fluidity despite the number of people following the actors. The nailing to the cross of individuals depicting the final stage of Jesus Christ's life on earth would draw rapt attention from religious onlookers for several hours. Also, during the procession that preceded the nailing -of -the -cross part, a group of persons whipping their backs until they bled would surprise the hundreds of people walking with the actors dramatizing the Passion of Christ. These are the flagellants who commit the ultimate penance of public suffering to atone and seek forgiveness for their sins. This tradition is also part of the Holy Week celebration in Barangay Cutud.

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