Filipino Catholics told to look for Christ among the poor

Philippines kicks off Holy Week with Palm Sunday observances
Filipino Catholics told to look for Christ among the poor

 A Filipino woman hold a crucifix and palm fronds during the observance of Palm Sunday in Manila. (Photo by Joe Torres)

As the predominantly Catholic Philippines started the observance of the Holy Week with a mix of religious piety and festivity, church leaders called for people to find the real meaning of the celebration among the poor.

In his Palm Sunday homily, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said the annual remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ is an invitation for everyone to accept the "Son of God" who is "humble, an ordinary person, wounded, insulted, spat upon and stripped."

"Our acceptance of the real Jesus is the acceptance of his presence among the poor, those being spat upon in society, those being insulted in our world, among the people who keep their silence even as they are slapped," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos flocked to churches on April 9, Palm Sunday, to start the observance of Holy Week, a long vacation for many in this predominantly Christian nation.

Cardinal Tagle called on Filipinos to make use of the week in getting to know the real Jesus, saying that those who will be attending the various colorful activities "will focus on who is Jesus."

"Do we accept the real Jesus or is it the Jesus that is in our imagination that we accept?" said the prelate, adding that accepting Jesus means accepting the poor and the oppressed.

 

Duterte calls for reflection

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly criticized the Catholic Church and even predicted its demise in the next 30 years, also called on Filipinos "to reflect on the death of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary."

"His life is a testament to the power of selfless service and humility in the face of various trials. Amidst uncertainties and difficulties, the way of the cross is our firm assurance that goodness and truth will always prevail," he said in a statement .

Duterte expressed his wish that "the virtues of kindness and benevolence that Christ exemplified" will serve as an inspiration for Filipinos to aid in the plight of the less fortunate.

 

'Observe piety not superstition'

Church leaders noted that even after almost 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, many Filipinos continue to practice "superstitious" rituals during the Holy Week.

It is common to hear older people reminding younger ones not to smile or not even bathe during the week to show sympathy with the suffering of Jesus.

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Father Rolando Arjonillo, who runs the Catholics Striving for Holiness website, reminded Filipinos to "practice true piety and not fall for old wives' tales."

"Perform works of mercy with the people around us, especially with those who are in need," said the Filipino priest.

 

Opportunity for the youth

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference, meanwhile, noted the use of a "modern melody" by young people who stage the traditional pabasa or chanting of the Lord's passion during the Holy Week.

The pabasa is the ritual chanting of an epic Filipino poem that recounts the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an epic composed of stanzas of five lines and is supposed to be an adaptation of a pre-Hispanic Philippine custom of chanting poetry. 

Some church officials have discouraged the use of melodies from modern songs in the pabasa, saying that the traditional tune is more "meditative."

Father Secillano, however, said the use of a modern melody offers an opportunity for young people to relearn religious tradition even as he urged young people to also "learn the old way ... so that they'll also know how the elderly do it."

"If it will actually attract young people to participate in the 'pabasa' much better," he said.

The weeklong, round-the-clock, marathon chanting ends on Good Friday. 

Palm Sunday ushered in Holy Week in the Philippines with Filipinos, woven palm fronds in hand, flocking to churches around the country.

It ends on Easter Sunday that starts with a dawn procession called salubong or meeting of the resurrected Jesus and his mother.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays, although most businesses allow employees to stop work on Wednesday to enjoy the long weekend.

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