New lifestyle transforms religious observance of Filipinos

Fast pace of big city has changed how many people go about Lenten traditions
New lifestyle transforms religious observance of Filipinos

Filipino Catholics have their foreheads marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday as part of Lenten tradition. (Photo by Jhun Dantes)

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, tradition comes to life during the observance of the 40-day Lenten season that starts on Ash Wednesday.

It is, however, unlike in the past when "life was simpler," according to younger Filipinos who have transplanted themselves in the cities from the provinces.

They recalled how "meals would be simpler" every Friday during Lent back in the provinces during their younger years.

Grandparents would rule the house, prohibiting children from making a noise and even banning the playing of music.

"[Grandma] would always tell us to read books instead of playing outside with our classmates," recalled Paolo Clacio. 

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Children were required to attend Mass every day. "We were told that it is the time of year that we have to reflect about our lives," said Paolo.

The praying of the rosary in the evening used to be a "must" for everyone.

On Ash Wednesday, the whole family would go to church to have their foreheads marked with ash.

It seems a long time ago, said Paolo who with his sister, Aprille, came to Manila to study and later have their own families.

Now, they only go back to the province during Holy Week.

"We still have one week to fast with our grandmother," said Aprille. "But it is not the same anymore," she said.

The fast-paced life in the city has transformed the religious life of many Filipinos, even forgetting religious traditions they practiced when they were young.

For instance, they still go to church on Ash Wednesday and have the ash mark on their foreheads, but are "too busy to plan what meatless food to eat." 

"We are consumed by the city environment. It took us away from the things that we used to do," said Aprille.

A week before Ash Wednesday, Aprille dropped by a coffee shop to get her regular dose of caffeine.

After a few sips and a few steps to her office door, she came up with an idea.

"I plan not to buy coffee for 40 days starting on Ash Wednesday and save the money for charity," she told

The 25-year-old industrial engineer told her brother, Paolo, about the "challenge" and they both agreed to "fast and abstain" for more than a month and "relive the tradition." 

Paolo said he would spend less time watching movies online and instead spend more time with his son.

"I will also try hard to smoke fewer cigarettes per day," he said. Maybe this would lead me to finally quit," he added.

Whatever the result would be, the siblings believe that the 40-day Lenten "challenge" will help them "become spiritually and physically better."

Every year, church leaders remind Catholics that Lent is about the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the ash mark on Ash Wednesday should be a sign of penance and "a reminder of our mortal nature as God’s creations."

"The ash also symbolizes humility that we must embrace as Christians," said the prelate.

Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose Diocese said Ash Wednesday "is an invitation to start anew" and a way for Christians "to be more sensitive to the needs of others."

“We abstain from anything that we like, even simple things that satisfy us, to spare some of what we have in life and give it to the poor,” he added. 

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon noted how the Lenten tradition of Filipinos has slowly changed.

He said a "penitential atmosphere prevailed" during the Lenten observance of the past. Today, there seems to be no distinction anymore between Lent and the other liturgical seasons.

The prelate expressed hope that tradition will continue to inspire young Filipinos to practice their faith.

Paolo and Aprille said they hope that the challenge to keep their faith burning will not end in 40 days.

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