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Holy Week in the Philippines

A Celebration of Roman Catholic Tradition in the Philippines

By Minnette Gamez-Aquino

Holy Week brings the Philippines to a standstill every year, as Roman Catholic Filipinos (the majority in the country) take advantage of the four-day weekend that begins on Holy Thursday.

Most Filipinos in the cities pack up and leave for the provinces, leaving formerly bustling urban areas desolate for lack of people. But that doesn't mean there's nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Paete, Laguna: Holy Week Processions

In the foothills of the Sierra Madre by the coast of Laguna de Bay, you can find the aptly named town of Paete, renowned for woodcarving and named after the paet (chisel).

In Paete, Holy Week celebrations start on Palm Sunday with the commemoration of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the Payakpak. This is a procession that begins at Ermita Chapel where the priest blesses palm fronds as they head to the beautiful church of Santiago de Apostol while religious women drape their shawls on the path of the priest as they make their way to mass.

In the five days leading to Good Friday, hordes of people pay their respects to a centuries old wooden image of the Santo Sepulkro or the dead body of Christ by kissing his exposed hands and feet. On Holy Wednesday, this image is given a ritual bathing after which a pabasa (a singing of Christ's life and passion) is held.

On Holy Wednesday, 53 images depicting Christ's passion are paraded on the streets of Paete in a procession called Salubong after the 6 PM mass. Some of these images are able to move, and do so in three crucial parts of the procession—when Jesus meets Mary, when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus and when Veronica shows Mary the miraculous imprint of Christ's face on the cloth.

On Good Friday, the Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words of Christ) are recited until 3 P.M. after which the Santo Sepulkro is fetched by male devotees from the recamadero (the keeper of the image) for "burying" in church.

How to get there: By car, the fastest would be through the Manila East Road. From Cainta Junction you will pass by the towns of Antipolo, Teresa and Morong then Tanay. After an hour and half of driving from there, winding mountain roads bring you to lakeshore towns of Mabitac, Panguil, Pakil and then Paete. Expect no traffic after Tanay and kilometers upon kilometers of scenic countryside.

By bus, go to the bus terminals along Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue and look for air-conditioned buses headed to Sta. Cruz, Laguna. From Sta. Cruz, take a regular passenger jeepney to Paete.

San Pedro Cutud, San Fernando, Pampanga: Live Crucifixions

For a colorful display of penitence on Good Friday, head to the town San Pedro Cutud where men have themselves actually nailed to a cross after reenacting the Via Crucis, a Kapampangan rendition of the passion play.

See dozens of hooded flagellants walking around whom either are beating their bloody backs with bamboo floggers, crawling on dirt roads or bearing crosses. Be sure to bring a hat with you because all the action goes beyond noon. Not for those who hate the sight of blood.

Before heading home, you may want to linger in San Fernando until evening for the Good Friday procession at the Assumption Cathedral.

How to get there: By car, take the North Luzon Expressway exiting via San Fernando. This is where it gets tricky, you may have to ask for directions from the locals to get there.

Though there are no bus trips on Good Friday, you may try to leave a day earlier if you want to go there by bus. Take a bus headed for Olongapo at the Victory Liner Terminal at Pasay City or Cubao (Both are on EDSA). Get off the Victory Liner Terminal at San Fernando and from there you may take any jeep, tricycle or taxi going to San Pedro Cutud.

Marinduque Province: Moriones

From Holy Monday to Easter Sunday, don't be surprised to find costumed men and women in Roman centurion masks parading the streets of Boac, Gasan, Santa Cruz, Buenavista and Mogpog in Marinduque.

These masked and costumed penitents are the Moriones and they're re-enacting the story of Longinus, a half-blind centurion who converted to Christianity when his eyesight was fully restored after Christ's blood spurted into his blind eye upon piercing his side. When the other centurions hear of his conversion, he is hunted down and beheaded.

How to get there: By air, Marinduque is 40 minutes away. Zest Air flies there four times a week.

By bus, take a Manila-Marinduque JAC Liner from either the Kamias or Buendia terminals. Buses leave at 8:00in the evening daily. For reservation call (02) 404-2073.

You can also commission air-conditioned vans to take you there. They fetch you right at your doorsteps and drop you off to your point of destination in Marinduque. For reservation call +63 917 8369900, +63 917 2014852, +63 919 4537219, +63 917 4665777 or +63 2 6464717.

Manila: Visita Iglesia

If you want to stay in the city during Lent, do as the locals do and try one of their favorite Holy Week rituals on a Maundy Thursday—the Visita Iglesia, where they visit seven churches in a single evening.

Why seven? The roots of this tradition come from an early Christian practice of visiting the seven great basilicas of Rome. Manila has a long list of old churches dating back to the Spanish regime, now considered as priceless cultural heritage sites.

But if you want to confine yourself to the Old Manila area, try making the rounds of these churches:

  • Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception or the Manila Cathedral
  • Shrine of Our Lady of Correa, also known as San Agustin
  • Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, also known as Binondo church
  • Sta. Cruz Parish
  • Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, also known as Quiapo church
  • Minor Basilica of San Sebastian
  • Our Lady of Remedios Parish, also known as Malate church
  • Our Lady of the Abandoned Parish, also known as Sta. Ana church.
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