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Chanting the Passion of Christ in the Philippines

Reciting the traditional 'Pabasa' helps young Filipinos internalize what happened to Jesus and learn spiritual patience
A group of women devotees gather for 'Pabasa,' a ritual chanting of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which is a time-honored tradition in the Philippines during Holy Week

A group of women devotees gather for 'Pabasa,' a ritual chanting of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which is a time-honored tradition in the Philippines during Holy Week. (Photo supplied)

Published: April 06, 2023 09:24 AM GMT

Nico Beley, 24, is a certified public accountant in the Philippines and hails from the town of Betis in Pampanga Province, north of the capital Manila.

Beley’s father, Juan, 53, takes part in the annual self-flagellation where hundreds of men flog their backs with spikes while walking barefoot.

Beley did not like to follow in his father’s footsteps. For him, flagellation is too much – bordering on fanaticism. 

“I do recognize the value of corporal mortification but not to the extent of hurting myself in public. For me, it doesn’t make any sense,” Beley told UCA News.

Begging to be different from his father, Beley organized young professionals in his town to start the Pabasa – a 24-hour chanting of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. 

The word 'Pabasa' means “to read.” That is to say, reading in a manner where one gains self-sacrifice and mortification.

For centuries, Filipino Catholics have chanted the Passion of Christ in a poetic manner. Old timers would begin it exactly at 12 at midnight and end in the morning on the following day, taking turns to chant. The leader chants one line while the rest of the congregation answers.

It is said that the Pabasa, which later became “Pasyon,” was first written and sung by Filipino priest and poet Father Gaspar Aquino de Belen of Batangas province, south of Manila.

De Belen produced the first devotional poetry that was translated into many languages in the Philippines.

Beley and his three friends contacted the caretaker of a replica of the Black Nazarene in their town to enact the Pabasa in front of it.

For Beley and his friends, it was their way of mortification – a more reasonable way than self-flagellation.

“When we chant the Passion of Christ, we internalize what happened to Him from the time he was sold by Judas until he was crucified,” Beley told UCA News.

After all, there were only three of them and they knew how tiring it could be.

Much to their surprise, parishioners and fellow Catholics joined them later. Most of the newcomers were in their 30s and 40s.

Jaime, 32, Beley’s catechist friend who joined him, said he was surprised because many young Catholics joined the chanting.

Of course, some old parishioners also chipped in.

“There is something in the Pabasa that binds us. Some say it’s not really about the life of Christ but about the community singing that attracts people. I say otherwise, it is the religiosity in us that attracts us,” Jaime told UCA News.

“I would do it again next year. It has taught me patience… spiritual patience,” Beley added.

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