In a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines, the Lenten season is one of the most highly-anticipated events of the year. It is during the Holy Week that religious devotions are held across the country to commemorate the journey of Christ to the cross until the day he is resurrected.
Fasting, abstinence, Visita Iglesia, reading of the Passion of Christ or 'Pabasa', processions, and acts of penance or more popularly known as 'Penitensya', are among the Holy Week practices that have gained many adherents in both local and international communities.
This coming lent, many people will once again witness and experience what Holy Week Celebration in the Philippines is like. And to help those who plan to show their devotion by joining religious festivals, here’s a rundown of the top Holy Week events that will be held in various regions of the country.
2017 Holy Week Celebrations
1. Moriones Festival, Marinduque
The Moriones Festival is a colorful spectacle in Marinduque. While the centerpiece of the event are the masked Moriones with their beautiful costumes and elaborate masks, the main event of the festival is the Via Crucis, the depiction of the 14 Stations of the Cross. The festival starts on Palm Sunday and climaxes on Easter when Longinus would be decapitated.
The weeklong celebration commemorates the conversion of Saint Longinus. He is the blind centurion who pierced the side of the dying Jesus. When Jesus' blood touched his eyes, he regained his sight, left his post, and converted to Christianity.
2. Lenten rites in Cutud, San Pedro Pampanga
Pampanga is known for the penitent march of bloodied devotees and the cenaculo or the Passion Play that reenacts Jesus’ sufferings. However, the culminating act of the penitence is the crucifixion. It is when some penitents would volunteer to be nailed on wooden crosses on Good Friday to share in the pain of Jesus Christ.
In 2016, 15 men were "crucified" in Pampanga, many of them are repeat penitents who have been doing the sacrifice for years. The practice started in 1962 and is still observed today, even gaining global attention.
3. Senakulo in Cainta Rizal
A Holy Week tradition that survived and thrived in Cainta Rizal is the Senakulo. Senakulo is a play that portrays the suffering and death of Christ. The actors and stagehands are composed of the humble townsfolk who made a solemn vow of sacrifice or service to God called Panata.
Today, the tradition is promoted and supported by a troupe called Samahang Nazareno Inc. and the tradition is even subsidized by the government. The Senakulo in Cainta is such a big event that OFWs who could not take part in the tradition would donate money to the troupe. People from all walks of life join the event to take part in the play.
4. Visita Iglesia in Batangas
Visita Iglesia has long been part of the Holy Week tradition of many Catholic families. It commemorates the passion of Christ by visiting seven churches where you could do stations of the cross (two for each church). This practice used to be observed every Maundy Thursday, but presently families can visit churches for the stations of the cross on any day of the Holy Week before Good Friday.
A Visita Iglesia in Batangas will not only inspire your spiritual renewal but also exude awe among devotees, thanks to the grand Spanish churches in the province. This itinerary by The Poor Traveler is a huge help in planning out your Visita Iglesia in Batangas.
5. Pabasa ng Pasyon
This tradition is one of the first Holy Week traditions that Filipinos have adopted. The Pasyon text which is an epic summation of the Bible culminating in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ has been a favorite of Filipinos since the 1700s. Pabasa begins during Palm Sunday and lasts up to three days. It is usually done with devotees chanting the poetic text, often non-stop, in places prepared by host families.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Pabasa is so rooted in Filipino culture and history that it actually inspired the Philippine Revolution? The most popular version of the text emphasized social justice and other ideals carried by Filipino revolutionaries.
6. Pilgrimage in Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in San Juan, Bulacan
Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Bulacan is a replica of the Notre Dame de Lourdes in France. It houses a statue of the Our Lady of Lourdes where devotees would flock during Lenten season to pray and to be blessed by the miraculous Virgin Mary.
The devotion to the Lady of Lourdes started in the 60s when Anita Guidote-Guanzon was miraculously healed from cancer of the uterus during her pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. She went back to the Philippines with her devotion to the Blessed Mother and brought back a marble statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is today visited by thousands of devotees.
7. Pilgrimage to Mt. Banahaw
Mt. Banahaw is one of the most sacred mountains for devotees. Mystics and faith healers would go for a pilgrimage to the mountains in order to endow bisa or power to their anting-anting or amulets. Pilgrims would come across various stations where they could purchase mutya, medallion, and other anting-anting with Latin inscription and Catholic imagery.
The pilgrimage to the mountain is actually a hike through a trail clad with sacred places or pwesto where pilgrims can pray and light candles. Hence, the pilgrimage to Mt. Banahaw is also called pamumuwesto by the locals. The start of the trail welcomes pilgrims with a 260 ft high waterfall which they have to pass through. And throughout the hike, they have to go through streams, natural springs, and other waterfalls. There is a popular belief that the water from Mt. Banahaw possesses healing powers.
8. Pasko ng Pagkabuhay
If the West has an Easter Egg Hunt, Filipinos celebrate the resurrection of Christ in Easter with the Salubong. This tradition commemorates Jesus Christ's resurrection as early as 4am with a procession. Men and women would have separate processions with men leading the representation of the risen Christ while the women have the Mater Dolorosa, Our Lady of Sorrows. The two would meet at the church to portray the meeting of the risen Christ and Mary. A mass follows afterwards.
Whether you want to reflect or engage in acts of penance, there are different Holy Week celebrations that you can participate in to become one with the people who are remembering the passion of Christ and expressing their devotion.
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