Post Lenten Special: 2008 Lent in the Philippines: Catholic faith resounds across the nation

By Anna Krisna Noble Bautista/

POPULAR for being one the happiest countries in the world for Christmas celebration, the Philippines may as well be the best place to commemorate the Passion and Death of Christ.

Though the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Sepulchre, and Mount Tabor cannot be found in the only Catholic Nation in the Far East, the Filipinos’ piety, hope, faith, and gratefulness to God compensates for the world’s most popular places of worship.

This year, the Lenten sea-son started early, with Ash Wednesday held on February 6. Churchgoers not only recalled the 40 days and nights of Jesus’s agony through penance and ash crosses on their foreheads; but they were also already preparing for the last week of the Lenten season.

Church leaders of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish, Araneta asked parishioners to donate used papers, old newspapers and telephone directories to build the props for their programs for the Holy Week.

Characters for the Senakulo (re-enactment of Christ’s passion on stage) practiced and gathered funds. Though the same play is presented each year in almost, if not all, parishes, Senakulo has always been a product of great effort and has continuously been looked forward to. Who knew that the act would interest local celebrities and renowned film directors to make their own stage and movie versions?

On March 16, extraordinary celebrations of the Eucharist were held in various churches, where Masses were usually held in the same methodical manner, having attendees act their part as the people of Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was a feast as the faithful of Manila bought Php15 to Php 20 worth of decorated palm branches to herald the coming of Christ to Jerusalem. In the provinces, a number prefer to cut a shrub’s branch than spending such amount of money.

As soon as Maundy Thursday arrived, business districts in the country nearly became ghost towns. There barely were persons walking on the streets of Makati, only convenience stores were at service. Commuters and public transportation were rarely seen (note that public rail transits were also not operating). These circumstances made it much easier for believers to repent, as if searching for one’s soul only entails staring at the horizon or looking out the window .

In cities like Makati, such silence is priceless that residents in high-rise condominium buildings could only hear church bells toll and their own heartbeat.

More passionate memorials were seen in Quiapo where throngs of people gathered around a penitent lashing himself until he bled; a number of faithful walked barefoot on filthy lanes; and persons in their 70s and 80s staggered on their kne e s on the aisles of the church.

In every parish, lines of those who were asking for repose waited their turn on the confession boxes. Every residential street had at least one pasyon area , where believers of Christ can sing the incidents before he died. In the previous days, there were reports of local prisoners chanting pasyon in jail. One detainee said that religious activities like this made him feel less guilty.

On Good Friday, which is also the week’s devotion day for

Hesus Nazareno (Jesus of Nazarene), penitents who included Quiapo in their destination for Bisita Iglesia came only as close as five meters from the parish’s entrance to pray because of the throng. In the scorching heat of the sun, parents managed to carry their children while again walking barefoot toward the church.

The community reunified on Saturday night for their renewal of faith, and welcomed those who have just accepted Catholicism.

Finally, on Easter Sunday, Christ once-again drew crowds as He was about to meet His Mother, Mary before his resurrection in

Salubong. Glorious as it should be, joy was felt from the faithful. Those watching the momentous event at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish, Araneta cheered and clapped their hands as the black veil was taken off the Virgin’s vis-a-vis her son, who had just risen.

True, blue penitents, Catholic Filipinos attest that they were not hypocrites in acting their faith and showing their grief for the death of Christ. In fact, the Philippine National Police declared that there was a 20 percent decrease in crime rate during the Lenten season.

One might ask, are not all the troubles the nation is facing enough penitence for Filipinos to do more? If the country has such great citizens, why are political troubles, unemployment, and poverty still eminent in the Philippines?

The answer lies, however, in collective prayer, the chorus answers, the synchronized crying from guilt, the sound of the heart saying one should fast and participate, and the acknowledgment that one’s soul was saved by a Higher Being. The Lenten season in the country declares that whatever tragedy the country is in, hope and unity is always possible for Filipinos — and that is through Christ.


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