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Filipino Religiosity: Good Friday on to Easter

Text by Gloria Hernandez Grejalde, Philippines

with Mark James Evangelista on Baliuag’s Good Friday Procession

Images by Mark James Evangelista / Ang Batingaw, St. Augustine Parish Church Baliuag, Bulacan

Filipino Religiosity

Religious feasts are integral part of Filipino culture. And being the only Christian nation in Asia, majority of its people are practicing the Catholic faith and traditions, foremost of them is the Lenten Season or Undas in Tagalog.

Some Lenten activities have attracted local and foreign tourists like Baliuag’s Good Friday procession (see below) or the Moriones Festival in Marinduque, an island in Southern Tagalog Region. Held annually during the Holy Week, penitents wear colorful masks like Roman centurions. They roam around the town looking for Saint Longinus, the centurion who thrusted the spear on Jesus’ side.

Another Lenten tradition that has attracted tourists’ attention is the crucifixion in Pampanga on Good Friday. A penitent is nailed to a cross after parading in the town along with other penitents. Locally called 'mandarame,' they walk barefooted while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks until they are blooded.

Meanwhile, among the many major churches that pilgrims visit in the Philippines are the San Agustin Church in Manila, the Minor Basilica National Shrine of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz in Binondo, the Taal Basilica in Batangas, the Barasoain Church in Bulacan, the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Saint Augustine Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, the Molo Church in Iloilo, and the Baclayon Church in Bohol, among others.

Hiking pilgrim can reach the Cross in Mount Samat in Bataan located 1,821 ft above sea level. It is the second tallest cross in the world at 312 feet. There is also the Kamay ni Hesus Shrine, or the statue of the risen Christ, in Mount Banahaw in Quezon where pilgrims have to climb around 300 steps to reach the peak. At 50 feet, the statue is believed to be the third biggest in the world.

Domingo de Ramos or Palm Sunday ushers the holy week. “Palaspas” made of palm leaves that are artistically formed and laced are blessed with holy water at the end of the mass during Palm Sunday. The dried palms are normally placed in windows and believed to drive off bad spirits.

Different activities are also being held in various parts of the country during the whole season like praying the Way of the Cross and the singing of the “Pasyon” or the “Pabasa” that the narrates the life of Christ from His birth, to death, and to resurrection. Visita Iglesias is also done, normally on Good Friday, where devotees visit seven churches to do the Station of the Cross while others go on a pilgrim visiting known miraculous statues around the country.

Baliuag’s Good Friday Procession

By Mark James Evangelista

The galleon shaped carroza bearing the image of Jesus talking to Santa Photina, the Samaritan woman in Jacob’s Well which is well lit and surrounded by an array of fresh flowers.

The streets illumined with lights from burning candles, the solemn sound of prayers in unison and the life-sized statues depicting the Life and Passion of Jesus, the Baliuag Good Friday Procession is regarded as the longest and grandest procession in the Philippines. The origin of this procession can be traced back to the Augustinian Missionaries who established the town in 1733.

A seeming mixture of faith and culture, the spectacle and grandeur of this tradition which perhaps attracted the early Christian inhabitants of Baliuag continues to this day as a pious devotion to God and as a tradition which links families together.

In the early 1960s, the Prusisyon ng Paglilibing or the Burial Procession is made up of 16 Carrozas where images of the Sorrowful Virgin, of holy men and women follow the well decorated bier of the Dead Christ in an attempt to accompany Christ to His tomb in Jerusalem.

However, during the latter part of the 1960’s to foster piety and to catechize the faithful, the local Bishop, Leopoldo Arcaira, encouraged families from the town to sponsor a carroza that will be an additional depiction of a scene in the life of Jesus. Among the first carrozas to feature larger than life images are that of the Last Supper, which were then followed by various scenes in the Agony in the Garden, Jesus Before Pilate, and various depictions of Jesus carrying the cross until His crucifixion and death in Mount Calvary.

The campaign of the Bishop became so successful that later on starting from the 1980s up to the present, more and more families became interested in commissioning other tableaux. Hence, scenes from the Life and Ministry of Jesus were also incorporated in the procession. Here are some that would leave anyone in awe.

A roman soldier berating the Lord Jesus Christ as He was being taken to Pontius Pilate for the second time.

St. Veronica showing the face of Jesus imprinted on her shawl dated more than a century old kneeling gloriously from her antique carroza.

The crowd as seen from the Church Plaza, the sound of generators, the smell of burned wax, vehicles pulling the carroza mingle with the prayers and murmurs of penitents and tourists alike.

Saint Mary Salome triumphantly standing on her golden carriage.

The carroza depicting Jesus as He is being taken down from the cross is an eye-stopper where all the biblical characters present in the crucifixion are seemingly ‘incarnated’ in life size images and garbed with baroque outfits.

Ecce Homo” ----- “This is the Man” declared Pontius Pilate. Here we see Jesus as he is half naked after being scourged and mockingly shown to the angry mob who shouted “Crucify Him!”

Said to be oldest, the Carroza of the “Pieta” which mystically evokes the maternal gaze of the Sorrowful Virgin Mary together with Mary Magdalene, John the Apostle, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus who all gathered to venerate and pay their last respects to the dead body of Christ. The Images as well as the float has been handed down from generation to generations in the Garcia Family.

After the pandemic, the Baliuagenos are looking forward in a special way for the 2023 Procession since the 128 carrozas will once again traverse the streets of their beloved hometown.

More people are eager and are looking forward to this highlight of the year since this procession for them evokes a very profound spiritual encounter colored with tradition, culture and an annual reunion of families.

Faithful to their tradition, the lengthy procession will start at 6:00 in the evening and as usual, as the last carroza leaves the Patio, the very first ones that left earlier have returned. This year’s procession will be very significant and historical since it will be the first procession of their beloved Baliuag after having been declared as a City.

Easter in the Philippines

While majority of the people in the world are busy painting eggs for Easter egg hunting, Filipinos hold vigil Saturday night, Sabado de Gloria, at the church waiting for Easter.

This is the Filipino way of celebrating Easter Sunday, the end of the Holy Week and the conclusion of the Lenten Season. Devotees spend the night at the church singing praises while waiting for the morning light to creep in.

At the streak of the dawn, normally at 4 a.m., they perform the ritual called “Salubong” re-enacting the scene of the meeting between the risen Christ and Mama Mary.

In some areas, processions are done to do the ritual. The statues of the risen Christ and Mama Mary draped in black veil, are paraded separately. They will meet and merge in a designated area where performers are singing and dancing to celebrate the occasion.

The highlight of the ritual is when an angel, performed by a young performer, lifts the veil off Mama Mary’s statue as she and the risen Christ meet. The lifting of the veil signifies the end of Mama Mary’s sorrow following the death of Jesus Christ.

Easter Sunday is the highest of all religious and cultural festivals, commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

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