Philippines is the only Christian nation in the Far East Asia, more than 90% of the population are Christians. About 80% of the entire population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. Colonized by Spain for 300 years, Filipinos were greatly influenced in many aspects of their life, including religion and traditions such as celebration of Holy Week or “Semana Santa” in local dialect.
The Holy Week in the Philippines has various appeals for everyone that combine native traditions and modern day touches with numerous innovations according to temperament and locale.
In Philippines, the entire holy week, from Holy Monday to Easter Sunday, is considered sacred. Many would take a vacation from work starting Holy Monday, and would resume work after Easter. Going to back to the provinces is a common thing, thus, the sight of full-packed buses is expected. For Filipinos, this is a celebration that should be done with the family, so going home to their parents, wives and children is a must.
During Holy Week, “Penitencia” is common sightings. Penitencia is the reenactment of the sufferings of Jesus by carrying wooden crosses, flagellating themselves with thorny and sharp objects and ropes, and even allow themselves to be nailed on the cross.
There are countless “Cenaculos” and “Pabasas” reciting and reenacting the passion and death of Jesus Christ in traditionally written verse form and dramatized version of the original sacrifice two thousand years ago.
The week from Monday to Good Friday is packed with series of religious ceremonies reminiscent of Christendom’s most cherished traditions. Easter Sunday pall builds up into a glorious pealing of church bells for the pre-dawn “pasalubong”, a reenactment of the Risen Christ’s meeting with His Mother at the church patio under a specially prepared arch. An angel then descends from the platform and lifts the mourning veil of the grieving Mother amidst the pealing of bells. The procession of the two images then ends up inside the church and masses are said.
Lenten celebration in the Philippines is a conglomeration of quaint Christian and paganistic practices that are found nowhere else in the world. Some are breathtaking and exciting as they are charming and so distinctively Filipino that they are a source of wonderment for any tourist.
Filipinos take these religious customs seriously. The older ones try to teach these to their children and their children’s children. Images of saints are considered as family heirlooms and prized possessions. The practices are taught, explained and done so the younger ones would understand and continue them.
For Filipinos, these customs show their love for their faith and their culture. Aside from believing that these would help them atone for their sins, these practices are their unique way of expressing their religious beliefs and values.
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