Monday, April 9, 2007

Holy Week on Guimaras

I feel good today. I couldn't tell you why, but I do. It's not the sort of thing I question.

It's the holy week here in the Philippines (presumably in America too), and in the Philippines that's no small event. There are a variety to religions here, but Catholicism is certainly the most prominent; to the point that public schools actually force their students to mass on occasion. Ross, who works at a school, brought this up to a teacher.

Ross: "But don't you have freedom of religion in this country?"
Teacher (completely serious): "Yes, but we have freedom of Catholicism"

I've heard Catholics in America talk about the Philippines, and their sentiments were something to the tune of "yes, they're Catholics, but they're not REAL Catholics". I'm not sure where that attitude comes from. Perhaps because on almost every house in the country you will find an outside wall where there is a cross painted in chicken blood (during training we were advised that if we moved into a new house, and we failed to make such a cross, our neighbors would do it for us without asking - it's bad luck not to, and they don't want any part of that bad luck). Given that Catholicism was brought to the country by the Spanish, who allowed the church to rule over the country as tyrants, I think their devotion must be particularly strong. They even go to church more than your average European Catholic - both on Sundays and Wednesdays.

But their At any rate, my point is this: the country is currently absorbed in the activities and festivities of this week. Guimaras is actually host to a large event, the re-enactment of the crucifixion.

This time last year, before I had been told that Guimaras would be my home, I made the visit for Holy Week. On Good Friday the boats leave Iloilo city, but rather than bringing you to the port, the deposit you on the side of what just barely doesn't qualify as a mountain. At the top of the mountain is the biggest cross I've ever seen, and it is visible from anywhere in Iloilo city that you can get a clear line of site.

The hike up the mountain is supposed to represent the personal sacrifice of Jesus. This is a popular event, and last year it was so crowded that the hike up the mountain moved at a snails pace. I never knew a mountainous trail could be so crowded, but this one was. People from all over the world were there, and as a result we were packed on this trail like a can of sardines climbing up a mountain.

You would take one step - very careful to keep your balance on the uneven terrain (after all, if you stumbled you were likely to send a few people screaming off the side). Then you would wait. And wait. Maybe 5 minutes would pass. Then the crowd would surge very slightly forward, and you would take another careful step.

Once at the top you not only get to see the giant cross, but you also have the privilege of buying a festive belt from a man who will try to charge you quite a fee, despite the fact that you clearly went to a great deal of effort to get to his shop.

Off in Jordan, the re-enactment takes place. Jesus is led down the path, carrying a cross and being viciously whipped by Roman soldiers. This happens just outside the mayor's office, leading me to believe that he is a supporter of the crucifixion - you would think that's a dangerous endorsement to make just before elections, but the man has guts. The whole presentation struck me as oddly disney-esque last year, in a way I can't quite explain. I'll take pictures this year, and maybe you'll understand.

Now with that particular tangent complete, long days and pleasant nights everyone,

No comments: