I have never really attempted to join all the major events of “Maleldo” (Holy Week) in all the years that I lived in my town, Mabalacat. This year, however, I secured a one week furlough from work, and I made a decision to attend the important Lenten activities lined up by our church, Our Lady of Grace, this, beyond our participation in the Holy Wednesday and Good Friday processions. After making sure that my carroza and the two family images were readied properly for the traditional lubenas ( Dolorosa for Miercoles Santo, Sta. Maria Jacobe for Viernes Santo), I hied off to Church and around town to check out our local Holy Week scene.
I had expected to see our town elders, parochial groups and the usual “manangs” to spearhead our Lenten festivities, but I was amazed to see that the youth of the town were actually at the forefront in the continuation as well as in the revival of our old and vanishing religious traditions. On the road, young “magdarames” (flagellants) with streaked hair and blond highlights, have upped the level of difficulty in their imitation of Christ, totally discarding the head coverings and exposing their faces for all the world to see. Braver and bolder, they have taken to more painful penitential stunts that include being lashed to a cross, to be yanked by their ayudantes from side to side, causing them to stumble and fall in all directions.
At the church on Maundy Thursday morning, an energetic group led by Arwin Paul Lingat was busy decorating the grand “monumento”, the altar of repose for the Blessed Sacrament, which seems to be become more elaborate every year. This year, the design is inspired by a ceremonial baldachino (baldachin); the 4-pillar canopy is topped by a crown and trimmed with cloth swags, housing an antique wooden tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament will later be placed. The tabernacle, resting on a revolving stand, can then be swivelled up front to face the church crowd—a clever piece of stage craft that only the young are capable of imagining!
Elsewhere, young people have also assumed the responsibility of dressing up the santos, as well as the dozen or so carrozas—arranging flowers, testing lights—to ensure a successful lubenas. Some even organize “Visita Iglesia” tours, with jeeploads of young devotees church-hopping in Pampanga towns, hoping to complete the mandatory seven church visits.
Rarely seen these days is the “Dakit Cordero” ritual—in which the “lamb of God” , usually molded from kamote or in this town, fashioned from cotton, is fetched from the house of the hermano mayor to the church, marked with a short procession. This tradition, which used to be practiced in Betis, symbolizes the imminent death of Christ—“like a lamb, He is led to a slaughterhouse”. The local Marian youth group, Children of Mary Immaculate, led the way in reviving this old tradition, marked by brief prayer services at the host’s residence and a procession to the church. The hermano’s daughter, Rose Ann Palo, had the honor of handcarrying the “cordero” , escorted by altar boys and the chosen apostoles.
After the Good Friday procession, Mabalacat youths once again made their presence felt as a band of violinists, guitarists, flutists and choir members offered musical tributes, singing “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” and other hymns in front of the images of the sorrowful Virgin and the dead Christ, while regaling their townmates with their heavenly voices.
Finally, on the day of the Resurrection, aside from the traditional angels of the Salubong or Pusu-pusu, young, nimble-toed dancers greeted the crowd with a Filipiniana folk dance number, livening up the early morning proceedings. A flag-waving dancer led the tribute to the risen Lord, and this rousing dance was reminiscent of Angono’s famous “Sayaw ng Pagbati ng Tinyenta/Bati de Bandera”.
I am sure that the sights and stories are the same in other Pampanga towns—with young Kapampangans participating in both accepted Church rituals as well as quaint folk practices that have found their places in our Church’s cultural heritage—from the theatrical senakulos of San Fernando, the Pasyon Serenata of Sta. Rita to the paso of Bacolor and the Pakbung Hudas of Minalin. In this disposable world where everything is in peril of being modified, discarded and forgotten, one can safely say that our religious traditions are in good hands; the youth will not only inherit this Kapampangan earth but also all the richness of its religious traditions.
*The Youths In the Last Holy Week