Holy Week is a welcome break for many a stressed urbanite in Manila and environs, who rush out to the provinces or, for those who can afford it, abroad. This weekend is a rare treat, as it coincides with “Araw ng Kagitingan” of “Day of Bravery” , commemorating the Fall of Bataan to the Imperial Japanese Forces in World War II, which falls on Monday, April 9. Thus, we have a 5-day official weekend holiday.
In recent years, Manilenos have began to realize the benefits of staying put during Holy Week. Manila becomes a virtual ghost town. No traffic, reduced noise, not many people on the streets. Perfect for rest and reflection. You avoid the horrific gridlock going out of the metro and then coming back. Not to mention the expense. A hassle-free Holy Week is assured for those with the foresight not to run with the herd. Besides, the malls open by Black Saturday.
The only complaints I have heard come from tourists and expats who gripe that all the interesting places are closed. All except the call centers who I hear are paying triple wages for those who report for work.
It has often been observed that in the Philippines, the high point of Holy Week is not Easter Sunday, as is the case in most of the Christian world, but Good Friday. The gore and drama of Christ’s suffering and death by crucifixion seems to resonate deeply in the Filipino soul. Dean Raul Pangalangan, writing from Boston where he is a visiting professor at the Harvard Law School, says that we define ourselves in terms of what happened in Calvary rather than what transpired at Christ’s resurrection. Very true. At the Church of the Jesu inside the Jesuit-run Ateneo De Manila University, during the traditional ‘bisita iglesia’ on the evening of Maundy Thursday, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was playing on a big screen next to the altar. As a people, we can easily relate to Christ’s passion, having been crucified many times by our political and, at times, spiritual, leaders. But I digress.
Back to Holy Week in Manila. We have been spared another pain by the Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday, that of being bombarded by the campaign spiels of the candidates for next month’s national and local elections. The relative peace will last until Easter Sunday, when the politicians will rise again to plague us.
We went on an abbreviated ‘bisita iglesia’ (church visits) last night, on Maundy Thursday. We first prayed at our subdivision chapel, then went to the Ateneo Church of the Jesu, a massive white triangular structure which, in the daytime, is full of subdued natural light and at night has a serene, otherworldly atmosphere. In front of the church is a replica of the Sacred Heart statue made by Ateneo alumnus Jose Rizal, who gifted the statue to his favorite professor when he graduated.
We then proceeded to the Church of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman. The church is a landmark round chapel, with the alter in the middle, and the first in the Philippines to have a thin shell dome. No less than five National Artists gave of their creative energies to build it. Architect Leandro Locsin designed it. Renowned painters Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok collaborated on the Stations of the Cross, artist-curator Arturo Luz designed the floor and sculptor Napoleon Abueva designed the double-sided crucifix, which shows a crucified Christ on one side and a resurrected Christ on the other. Sadly, its in a bad state of disrepair, with the dome cracked and peeling. Not much thought and planning appears to have been done on surrounding areas either, which is now cluttered with a hodge-podge of clashing figures and statuary representing various Catholic themes and oddly shaped structures adjoining Delaney Hall, the chaplain’s residence.
We have many fond memories of the U.P. chapel. It was there that our only son was baptized. I have also spent some uncomfortable nights on its curved pews, when, together with other dormer students, we would sometimes miss curfew and be shut out.
We ended up in that ubiquitous chapel of capitalism, the Starbucks outlet, which is open all the time, Holy Week or not.