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Penance in Filipino faith-based traditions


Lent, most particularly the Holy Week, is a very important season for Catholics. It is a time of prolonged penance as the Catholic faithful reflect on the passion of the Lord, his suffering, death, and resurrection. 


In the Philippines, the Holy Week is not only a demonstration of faith, but also a way of honoring culture and traditions. While, generally, it is a time for contemplative prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as taught by the Church, Filipinos have been observing a number of Holy Week traditions that have kept both their faith and their communities stronger.


The Pabasa ng Pasyon, which is the chanting of the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a Filipino tradition that is continuously being practiced in many Catholic homes that has kept it as a family tradition. According to the National Museum of the Philippines, the first dated Pasyon text, consisting of 980 verses, was written by Gaspar Aquino De Belen in 1704. The full pabasa usually lasts several days of the Holy Week, but in recent times there are those who practice the abridged version. 


As it is an oral tradition in the country, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) cited the pabasa as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Philippines under the Performing Arts category in 2011.


There is also the senakulo, which is the reenactment of the passion of Christ. According to the Malolos Diocese, it also follows the Pasyon text of De Belen, and is usually held for several days during the Holy Week. 


In Marinduque, their reenactment is focused on a different character — that of the nearly blind Roman soldier Longinus, who was miraculously healed by the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side when he pierced it. The tradition is called the Moriones Festival, wherein participants wearing masks and costumes typical of Roman soldiers during Biblical times roam around the town looking for Longinus. 


Meanwhile, the Penitensya, particularly in Pampanga, involve acts of self-flagellation using bamboo whips while walking barefoot under the heat of the sun; or carrying a cross and being crucified afterwards. While the Catholic Church does not agree to this form of penance,for the devotees, this is their panata or vow, a way to atone for their sins or show gratitude for answered prayers. 


Other traditions that are being practiced by most of the Catholic faithful are the Visita Iglesia, wherein they visit at least seven churches and recite the 14 Stations of the Cross; and the Salubong, the portrayal of the meeting of Mary and Jesus following his resurrection. The salubong forms part of the Easter Sunday Mass. 


These Catholic traditions are several ways by which Filipinos express their panata or vow, different forms of sharing in the passion of Christ. For many, it is a way to show penance; and for those who inherited such tradition from their ancestors, it is a form of thanksgiving.


Whichever practice we keep, or even if we do not observe any of these traditions, the most important thing to bear in mind is the reason why Jesus died on the cross. And as Pope Francis has reminded us, the three most important actions that we must take during Lent are: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.

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