In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, where people usually observe Good Friday by abstaining from the eating of meat, one town got an exemption from no less than the pope. The island town of Bantayan was granted a 'papal indult' 176 years ago exempting its residents from the meat prohibition as well as from Holy week fasting. An "indult" is a permission granted by church authorities for the non-observance of a particular norm or church law. The community on Bantayan Island in the province of Cebu was the first parish established in the Visayas and Mindanao regions of the Philippines. The parish, which was used to be known as the 'Convento de la Asuncion de Nuestra Señora' was established in 1580, some 15 years before the establishment of Cebu itself.
The exemption was made because residents, who mostly depended on fishing for food, had to attend Holy Week observances in the church. When there was no fishing, they were forced to eat meat, said Father Joselito Danao, parish priest of the now renamed Saints Peter and Paul Parish. The exemption later became necessary when the people started constructing a new church. Raquel Villacerna Tinga, a former nun, said everybody had to help in the construction so people were not able to fish. A "boleta" or receipt that carries the date February 8, 1849, was issued to parish priest Don Doroteo del Rosario and it still exists. The stated effective operating period for the 'papal indult' or "indulto apostolico para el uso de carnes" started in 1843, several years after building of the church began in 1839. Lenten observance through the years
Since the time of the Spanish missionaries on the island, Bantayan town has been a magnet for pilgrims and tourists alike during the Lenten season. Sister Tinga, who has focused her time on teaching and playing a role in parish activities, said residents from other places would converge in the town "to express their devotion" to God during Holy Week. Life-size images of saints and scenes from the Biblical narrative of the 'Passion of Christ' would be paraded around town on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. "The original purpose was to propagate devotions," said Tinga. She said early Spanish priests who came to the island brought them the images and placed these in the care of families. Another unique religious practice in Bantayan is to dress children to look like the images of the saints during the Holy Week religious processions. Tinga recalled being dressed as the "Our Lady of Sorrows" when she was a child. "I would wear a violet dress and my mother would place me on a carriage with the saints," she recalled. "They believed that if they offer their child to God, the child will grow as a good person, guided by the lord, and will be protected from sickness," she said. Religious and secular tourism
Apart from the religious rituals, the island's pristine white beaches have also attracted people during the Lenten season, which is summer in the tropical nation. Melanie Sasota Loyao, the town's tourism officer, said at least 67,223 tourists were recorded as arriving on the island during last year's Holy Week observance. In 2009, a "bikini show" was held on Bantayan, drawing the ire of some women's organizations and religious groups. The government has since prohibited similar shows, and even parties, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Father Danao has repeatedly told parishioners to remind visitors to respect and observe the people's traditions. The priest said that while the parish is exempted from abstaining from eating meat during Holy Week, people still needed to either fast on another day or do "corporal works of mercy."
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