Stations of the cross at BGC

There’s something unsettling about the exercise. People move from one station to the next and do the suggested activities ranging from as simple as reflecting on a Gospel verse, inserting written ‘wails’ in crevices, to as back breaking as carrying a wooden cross (to simulate the carrying of the cross by Jesus as he’s being whipped by Roman guards and sneered at by the spectating public).

Each station is sponsored by a group of stores, an organization, or a commercial web page and all of these sponsors must have suggested to the organizers to tailor fit each according to the line of business of the sponsors.

The shadiest part of this Holy Week extravaganza at BGC is that people take every station very seriously, leaving behind their sense of the ridiculous on the pavement 50 meters away. 

It’s a commercial exercise whose sole purpose is to lure people into thinking that what they’re doing makes them close to God by taking part in His passion right before they hit Starbucks and after their dinner at nearby Cajun prawn bar, and while they take selfies to be posted on Instagram using hashtags that betray their self awareness. That the Holy Week isn’t about Jesus’s death and resurrection but about the celebration of the self.

I’m not close to getting it. BGC wants everything in. And the people willingly do their role in the performance. The business enterprise, without a sense of irony, coopts the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver into a profit maximization bonanza and the people willingly dig in. 

I can feel gastric juice from my gut rush toward my throat.

Additional readings

I began reading Lost Bodies by Francois Gantheret while on a bus to Makati this evening after buying a copy at Powerbooks in Megamall. In the tradition of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, this novel is profound, literary, and profoundly literary, despite its Sidney Sheldon-esque grip (minus the usual cheapness).

I only let go of my copy, rested it beside me with the open part facing my bed, to write this post.

For some time now, he no longer slept. Eyes wide open in the darkness, he lay in wait. It was like this every morning. He had only a very hazy notion of what it meant: mornings for him were spent just keeping watch, waiting, sitting with his back to the wall, his legs folded and his arm around his knees, clenched to his chest so as to allow as little access as possible to the cold which has more acute at that time of the day, his head thrown back, his eyes glued to the lid above him that was still not yet visible.

___________

And these two whose still intact plastic covers I am yet to tear and peel.

Fusion of pain and faith in the Philippines

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On the surface, Holy Week in the Philippines is a bizarre admixture of Catholicism, individuals’ eccentricities, and sadism-masochism tendencies. Under the scorching heat of the sun, half-naked men roamed the streets of Mabalacat, Pampanga flogging themselves until they bleed exposing the inner layer of their skin. It was first time I witnessed this tradition; having lived my life in southern Philippines, there was nothing like this in my place, except that I recall when we were young how our father gave us a few soft lashings using a bitter vine believed to keep evil spirits away.

Here in Pampanga, men create wounds on their backs by making small cuts using razor blades then repeatedly lash their back using a device made of bamboo that promotes profuse bleeding. This act, as well as crucifixion is also practiced by some women.

Each barangay (a unit of local government) in Pampanga has their own makeshift structure that acted like a station of the cross where bands of men inflicting pain on themselves pass to pray and ask forgiveness for the sins they committed during the year. This act which they call panata, roughly translated to a ‘vow’ is done by the namamanata or the person doing the act for a specified number of years, usually spanning several decades, for reasons ranging from thanksgiving for the blessing received from heavens, realization of a wish, or expression of faith.

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What struck me, however, is the magnitude of faith that has been brought to an almost maniacal height. I opted not to go to San Fernando, another municipality of Pampanga that was once featured in the National Geographic’s ‘Taboo’ episode. Here actual crucifixion was being done to not less than 30 devotees, or fanatics, the choice of the better word is left to the reader of this blog. The blood and gore I saw in the self-flogging of the namamanata in Mabalacat is already too much to bear.

Faith in the most Christian nation (the word ‘Christian’ is an absolute adjective so that means it does not lend itself to comparison and qualification; please forgive this blunder) in Asia is not considered as just one of the components in the life of an ordinary Filipino. For some, it is the only thing they got that allows them to live amid all the poverty and despicable living conditions. The pain from the nails passing through one’s hands and feet are nothing compared to the struggles an ordinary Filipino endured during the rest of the year. Pain, as a part of the Filipino conception of himself, has been wired in his national psyche that Filipinos do not anymore get stupefied when they see blood, skinned back from lashing, and crucified bodies.

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The tradition lives on.

To a certain extent, events during the Holy Week in the Philippines have become spectacles in themselves where most local government, in the aim to increase revenues from tourism, even have marketing strategies to lure local and foreign tourists that are amazed and amused with the display of faith, tradition, almost supernatural ability to endure pain, and the extent a human being has to go through to show his faith.

I do not want to sound judgmental here, for when faith assumes the subject of a discussion, I relinquish whatever position I have, probably because I have nothing close to it to speak of. Culture is bound to be absurd from the perspective of an outsider, but somehow finding myself midway: an alien and a member of the greater Filipino culture all at the same time, I can’t help myself from feeling dazed, awed, traumatized to a certain extent, and a bit proud.