Metro Manila · Good Friday Rituals
A long procession of young men, barefoot, heads covered, shirts torn apart, revealing lesions, wounds and sore, bleeding backs -the Penitensya (penitence) is a bloody but fascinating Good Friday tradition that can be observed in many Philippine provinces and parts of Metro Manila.
The pictured men, from the province of Bulacan, walked for hours in the midday heat, flagellating themselves with makeshift scourges and wooden sticks to reenact the Passion of Christ prior to His crucifixion. The Catholic Holy Week ritual dates back to Spanish colonial times and joining the rituals is a sign of repentance and faith in predominantly Catholic Philippines.
Along the processional route, people from each barangay (neighborhood) have built stations of the cross, with makeshift altars adorned with Jesus statues, ikons and flowers. Here, small groups of men and women, senior citizens as well as children, practice the Pabasa and for several days and nights they take turns in chanting the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This tradition doesn't stop until Jesus's resurrection. The melodic recitation of the Bible was introduced by Spanish friars, but the singing style dates back to pre-colonial customs of singing epics during native celebrations. In some provinces, this melodic recitation of Christ's story is even aired on radio.
The penitents kneel and afterwards lay face-down in front of each station of the cross, being flagellated by other participants of the procession. Violent as it may seem, it is a controlled ritual with precautions to ensure nobody gets severely harmed. For example, there are water stations along the way to avoid dehydration. And more importantly, the back injuries are not originally caused by the scourges; before the procession, each penitent gets a few small cuts with razor blades which merely keep bleeding due to the scourging.
Good Friday is a public holiday in the Philippines, and many Filipinos spend the days before Easter Sunday with their family in the provinces, fasting and participating in religious rituals. Other popular Good Friday traditions are the Passion play Senakulo and cross-carrying processions. In some places, most famously in the province of Pampanga, some people perform real crucifixions, as a vow for a request or prayer granted. For a short time, they are tied or actually nailed on a cross. However, the Catholic Church does not encourage such extreme types of penance.
While Good Friday is a time for penance, some Filipinos now use their vacation time to spend time with family but attending mass and processions is still a part of their schedule.