Anyone who had been to San Fernando, Pampanga during Holy Week knows how festive these Capampangans can be during the Solemnity of Christ’s Passion and Death. They’ve gone all-out creative in closely identifying with the sufferings of Christ, I have to list down them here in bullet points.
- They’ve got penitentes of various permutations. The ones I knew when I was a child were the cross-carrying kind. They trudge from parish to parish usually clad in robes similar to that of the Nazareno. Then there are those that creeps on the ground like soaks, which is for me, a bit dangerous because they might end up as roadkills (I almost ran over one as I once drove for home). It would probably be better if the next time they crawl on streets, they carry an early warning device at their back. The third kind of penitents are those that cover themselves with mud and twigs, which brings to me the memory of a tagalog movie where Roderick Paulate played the role of… a driftwood. Talk about wooden acting. Another kind of penitent are the flaggelantes, who, by their name suggests, beat themselves bloody. The bleeding, I learned, is induced, as a companion of a flaggelante (yes, even penitents need PAs) make small lacerations at the of the penitent using a naked razor blade (I’ve got a feeling that Gillette is the root word of the tagalog term, gilit, which means to induce a wound using a blade). Then the flaggelante would walk around, whipping himself at the back with a bunch of corded pieces of wood that makes alot of noise as they hit the pulpy shoulders of our penitent. The noise is done probably just for effect, but, really, the blood drawn out in the process is all-too-real. If you happen to see them, try watching them at a distance. I once made a mistake of wearing immaculately white tees at San Pedro Cutud where there’s consortium of penitents, and I went home with my shirt looking like a Jackson Pollock painting, with the penitents’ blood as medium.
- The Capampangans got the most ostentatiously designed altars of repose. In the Philippines, there are two dates when the road traffic is at its heaviest: at Christmas Eve and during the night of Holy Thursday. Christmas eve, we’d understand, as it is a phenomenon known in most parts of the globe, but Holy Thursday holds a special significance for us, Pinoys. On this day, we are called to remember Jesus, betrayal and arrest by contributing to the gridlock. Why naman, tanong mo. Because of the tradition of Visita Iglesia. The original reason for Visita iglesia is to adore the Blessed Sacrament half-exposed in as much churches you can visit for until midnight only. Nowadays, we hold Visita Iglesia so as to witness inter-parish competition for the Best Altar of Repose of the Year. The altars of repose nowadays have become like set designs for a Victorian period movie, a float for Annual Rose Parade or even a stage of K! All-star Videoke Challenge. The result? The “pilgrims,” armed with camera phones, would now unabashedly pose in front of the altar for a picture. Bakit nga naman hindi, ano?
- The Capampangans got carrosas (giant floats) depicting personages or scenes from the Passion. Nothing about the carrosas of santos are ever oppressive. Truth be told, I always find myself gawking at them, believing that that is exactly how they look like in heaven, draped with jeweled and embroidered brocade, surrounded with pale lights, gilded decors and flowers, like they’re some apparition-on-wheels. The procession of carrosas, since I was a kid, is always a pious delight. The only thing lamentable to it is that the organizers always choose the worst singers and uses the scratchiest sound system to accompany the prayerful paglalamyerda of the saints. But they do make up for it by placing these singers last at the procession, or by drowning up their singing with a brass band from Bulacan.
- The Capampangans got pabasa. When I was young, my mother decided to celebrate my sister’s and her birthday, my graduation in gradeschool and my other sister’s graduation in highschool with a… pabasa. The pabasa is a nationwide Lenten panata, which is simply a religious reading marathon sung aloud at makeshift chapels and are kept alive by loads and loads of Boy Bawang. The version written by Pilapil can be easily sang using popular tunes. The one by Aquino de Belen (the one we use at Batangas) has verses that tend to be longish and had to be chanted, Gregorian style. I don’t know what version the Capampangans are using, but it surely is very difficult to read, with all that ñ and q in the text.
- They’ve got a procession of vieled children dressed in mourning clothes, each carrying a broomstick that has an instrument of passion attached on its end. I don’t know what is this called but it’s haunting. And downright foolish. I mean, one can be brought to tears at the sheer sight of the nails used in the crucifixion, but to have children parade around carrying a stick with a nail protruding on it cn be cartoonish, “Looney Tunes”-cartoonish. Among the instruments of passion are the whip for scourging, the veil of Veronica, a sponge (like the one used in dishwashing), the dice used by the centurion (which looked like something you hang at the rearview mirror), the INRI sign, a basin, a pitcher (in reference to Pilate’s handwashing) and a cup with a broken handle (I just made this last one up, in homage to Rilke’s Der Tod).
- The Capampangans got crucifixions! San Pedro Cutud is the place to be when it comes to crucifixions. My late Dara brought me there once to witness a three o’clock crucifixion. It was but a bare hill at someone’s backyard where there stood three crosses. At around 3:45pm, our “Christ” arrived carrying a much smaller (and presumably lighter) cross. I didn’t know what made him late, but a 4pm crucifixion is very unbiblical. Later, he was helped up to an aperture on the cross at the middle of the hill. His hands were washed with rubbing alcohol, he was given a drink and was ready to do “the deed.” Out came pakong de dos (two-inch iron nails). A centurion felt our “Christ’s” hands (probably to avoid hitting a ligament) then, positioning the nail at the palms, hammered away. It was a touch diappointing because there was hardly any blood, plus the hushed and charged drama of his crucifixion is intermittently disturbed by the “Mineral! Mineral!” of vendors hawking bottled water. After ten minutes at the cross, the audience had already taken enough pictures with their digicams and so “Christ” was removed from the cross. This was concluded, somewhat inappropriately, with a vigorous applause from tourists. Yehey, the show is over…
Now, I actually can go forever enumerating the aspects of Capampangan Holy Week, but I have my own Holy Week to celebrate. Suffice to say, These Pampangos didn’t just do all these pomp and drama for Holy Week just distract themselves from thinking too much of longganisa and tocino on a Good Friday. Faith, sacrifice and repentance are but a few of their real reasons. God’s goodness and love is another.