Penitentes kick off Holy Week

Re-enacting the Passion in the Philippines

Penitentes kick off Holy Week
Flagellants during Good Friday observance. (Photo by Joe Torres)
Ronald O. Reyes, Palo, Philippines

March 25, 2013

Fedilino Josol, 45, a senior member of the Penitentes, an all-male confraternity of devotees in the town of Palo in the central Philippine province of Leyte, looks forward to Holy Week as another chance to seek forgiveness and penance for his sins.

The "penitentes" is a brotherhood that celebrates the Passion of Jesus Christ with rites involving fasting and, in some areas, self-flagellation.

“I’ve been doing this since my younger days. It is one way of showing to God how sincere we are in our intentions," Josol says.

A procession of "penitentes" during Holy Week has become a feature of the annual celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. It has also become a tourist attraction.

During Holy Week activities, the "penitentes," who number about 100, wear cone-shaped hoods to mask their faces, a robe to cover their bodies, rosary beads around their necks, a white cord around their waists, and walk barefoot.

They assist priests during religious processions and in soliciting donations for the celebrations.

The highlights of the group's "performance" is during the reenactment of the "Washing of the Feet" on Holy Thursday, the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday, and the station of the Cross on Black Saturday.

Josol says although he and his group fast during the celebration, they emphasize "the solemn and spiritual side of the event, not just the rituals."

"For me, it is by going to confession and reflecting on one’s shortcomings that bring impact to the celebration," he says.

Asked if the "penitentes" remain relevant today, Josol says "the act of seeking forgiveness and doing sacrifices for others" will never be irrelevant."

He says he has been preparing his children to follow in his footsteps and "they are also excited about it."

Holy Week in the Philippines is a significant religious observance for the Catholic majority and most Protestant groups. Beginning Holy Thursday, businesses in the country either shut down operations until Black Saturday or open late and close early.

During the Easter Triduum -- from Thursday to Saturday -- local terrestrial television and radio stations stop broadcasts. Those that do operate truncate broadcasting hours and feature religious shows, films, and news coverage of religious ceremonies.

Many communities observe Spanish-influenced Catholic rituals such as processions.