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Monday, April 13, 2015


By Jocelyn P. Alvarez

ZAMBOANGA CITY - Lent is a time when Catholics remember Christ’s unfathomable and unconditional love for mankind shown through his sufferings, death and resurrection. Christ’s Passion is shown in numerous plays performed (including real-life crucifixion) as part of the Holy Week celebrations.

Cuaresma (lent)  

It starts on Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics are seen returning from church with their foreheads smudged with ash (mixed with oil) in the shape of a cross. The Ash is a symbol of repentance. Those who had their foreheads smudged with ash are to abstain from meat every Friday.

Lent is a season of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, prayer, charity and simplicity. It can also be viewed as a spiritual cleansing and reflection.

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

It is traditionally a solemn occasion in the country, a time for serious penitence. It starts from Palm Sunday to Black Saturday, then Easter Sunday.

This is also the time when believers perform religious rites in fulfillment of a vow they made when they asked God a favor, such as a cure for an illness.

On Palm Sunday, the worshippers wave palm fronds or “palaspas” in the air to commemorate the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. Filipino Catholics bring palaspas to church to be blessed by the priests, and then they bring the fronds back home with them.

Back then, my grandma would say that the blessed palaspas will cast away bad luck and evil spirits if placed anywhere inside the house. I grew up with this belief and tradition.

During Maundy Thursday, the Catholics celebrate this day by attending church services and watching Passion Plays. In one practice called visita iglesia, devotees try to visit as many   churches as they can.

We visited seven churches the night of Maundy Thursday, lighted candles and prayed   Old folks would say, visiting seven churches commemorates the seven last words of Christ before He died.

Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Christ. It is during this day that catholic devotees re-enact the sufferings and death of Christ in the Cross. Religious figures (santo) are being carried through the towns on top of carriages locally called carrozas.

Back when I was a child, I would ask my mom why are the religious images in carrozas veiled in black? Mom would then say that the black veil is a symbol of mourning for the death of Jesus Christ.

It is during this day that some devotees publicly whip themselves as re-enactment of the torture and death of Christ, and some would go to the extent of doing a real-life crucifixion where they have their feet and hands nailed to a wooden cross, and crown of thorns placed in their heads.

Doing this religious rite is said to be a panata or a fulfillment of a vow they made when they asked God a favor, such as a cure for an illness.

On Black Saturday, Catholics remember the entombment of Christ. People usually spend the day preparing for the     night vigil leading up to Easter Sunday.

Easter Sunday

A joyous day ensued after the Black Saturday. Easter Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Traditionally Catholics wake up as early as 3 a.m. to prepare for the “salubong” ceremony at 4 a.m. Salubong commemorates how the Virgin Mary met her son Jesus who has come back to life.  Everyone is in festive mood during this day. Family outings and food feast are usually held while others go to the beach to celebrate.
Holy Week Superstitions

Superstitions have it that making noise or any unnecessary sound during this time is prohibited. This practice is observed by the Catholic faithfuls to preserve the solemnity of the Semana Santa. So, for modern Filipinos who love to do videoke and loud noise, this is not the best time for such activities
According to superstitious beliefs, traveling at this time may result in accidents – any injuries and wounds sustained during this period are believed to heal slower as well.

This is due to another early belief that evil spirits gain strength during Holy Week, mainly due to Christ's passion and death.

Superstitions also disallow baths or even laundry at 3 p.m. of Good Friday, considered the hour of Jesus Christ's death. Anyone who disobeys this belief is said to either get sick or have bad luck.

Holy Week in Zamboanga

Despite the volatile peace and order situation of the city, many devotees went out of their way to observe the tradition during the Holy Week. There were throngs of people who went up at Cross Mayor in Abong- Abong, ( a place 800-1000 feet above sea level)  to observe the 14th station of the cross; multitude also did the visita Iglesia and the “prosisyon” (procession).

Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo T. dela Cruz during his Easter Sunday Mass said he was thankful for the turnout of church goers to hear mass despite peace and order concerns in the city. He said it is important that people remember the true essence of Lent.

But modern day Filipinos see Holy Week as an opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of urban living to the serene beaches and picturesque landscapes spread across the archipelago.