Family, Fealty, Faith

Filipino families around the country are greatly invested in our local Holy Week processions.
For many religious folks it is a public declaration of their devotion to Jesus Christ and their personal patron saints. It is also the opportunity for carroza and santo owners to preserve and showcase the patronage of their devoted ancestors and descendants.
The community of followers, artisans and craft folk who dress, care for, and maintain these heirloom statues and the floats they are conveyed upon are also proud participants in their annual Lenten processions
Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist by Zanobi Machiavelli

Unless you were a studious scholar of divinity it is easy to confuse Saint John the Evangelist with Saint John the Baptist. 

John the Evangelist [or the Evangelizer] is often depicted as either a wizened old man or a beardless pious youth. Christians have traditionally identified him with John the ApostleJohn of Patmos, and  John the Presbyter. One of the original 12 apostles and the only one to have not been killed for his faith.

There was a legend that John was boiled in oil and miraculously preserved. He is often depicted with a quill and a book or scroll for his writings. He is represented by an eagle - one of the creatures envisioned by Ezekiel (1:10) and in the Book of Revelation (4:7).

The ancestral statue of San Juan Evangelista owned by the Sen. Jose C. Locsin family is special and possesses two sets of robes, and hands for two separate processions.

For the crucifixion procession the saint appears somber - dressed in dark colors with head bowed in grief and hands clasped in agony. For the resurrection procession the statue is changed to appear in joyous and celebratory countenance - robed in bright velvet, an upturned ecstatic face, and hands open in oblation.

Text by: Issa Urra
Photos by: Bem Cortez

The Philippines is a group of islands nestled in the tropical sands of the Pacific. It is a nation with long histories and distinct cultures from both east and west. 

The nation is one of the few Christian countries in Asia, with Roman Catholics making up of over 86 percent of the population, and the Vatican Church a significant local sociopolitical force. Its influence extends beyond holy days of obligation and cause observed holidays to bring the whole country to a pause. 

Colorful Lenten celebration of Silay ~ “Prusisyon # 6” by Aeson Baldevia

Filipinos have one of the most colorful Lenten celebrations in the world. Inheriting traditions dating back to our Spanish colonization and incorporating them into our very own home-grown beliefs and superstitions. 

A significant portion of Filipinos look forward to upholding these annual ceremonies as a way of remembering their heritage – hoping to find renewal and redemption through this popular practice of public faith.

Procession participants declare their devotion ~ “Prusisyon # 3” by Aeson Baldevia

Holy Week in the Philippines (Mahal na Araw in Filipino; Semana Santa in Spanish) – begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday. It is traditionally a solemn weeklong occasion in the Philippines - a time of somber atonement and abstinence.

It is a significant religious observance for the country’s Catholic majority, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, or the Philippine Independent Church and most Protestant groups. 

Many communities observe the Spanish-influenced Catholic rituals and pageants that include elements of pre-colonial beliefs. Some ritual practices are even considered superstitious and are not sanctioned by the Universal Church. 

A volunteer procession marshal ~ “Prusisyon # 11” by Aeson Baldevia

Processions are an important part of Holy Week - a reflective time for the whole community. For the parish it is a time of prayer and contemplation, fasting and forgiveness. Traditional Holy Week processions mark these holidays: 

The Holy Week procession is a re-enactment of the passion of Jesus Christ. The last four days of Lent are the highlight of the season. These saints and the floats they are carried on are polished and bedecked in all their glory. 

The prominent families who own them and have poured their time and resources into their care and maintenance take pride in sharing this commitment and dedication with all participating residents and visitors. 

The streets are filled with many devoted procession followers and curious onlookers packed along the route – eager to witness the blessed statues of saints [santos] in their opulent and ornate floats [carrozas].

These holy heirloom figures are venerated objects treated as sacred relics - having been with their families for generations. Some were brought here from Spain over a century ago. 

Christ on the Cross in His modern day carroza ~ “Prusisyon # 18” by Aeson Baldevia

Adorned with decorative plants and flowers, they are brilliantly lit and ornately decorated to glide through the streets in competing elegance and pomp. Their historical significance date back in time to the earliest Christian processions. 

Some of the church-approved sacred images are: 

  • Mater Dolorosa, Mother of Christ & humble servant of God – showcasing Mary’s sorrows and suffering, from crucifixion to ascension.  
  • Apostles & followers of Christ – apostles at the Last Supper; St. Peter the pillar of the church; Saint John the Evangelist apostle and author of three letters, the Fourth Gospel, and the revelation to John in the New Testament.
  • The Three Marys - Mary Magdalene anoints Christ with perfume; Maria Cleofas or Jacobe sweeps the sepulcher with a broom; Maria Salome brings incense.
  • Santo Entierro - the entire dead body of Christ on a bier.
  • Jesus Christ – at various Stations of the Cross; including the crucifixion and resurrection.

Christ taken down from the cross in Mary’s arms ~ “Prusisyon # 10” by Aeson Baldevia

What fuels the passion to uphold these century-old traditions? Is it the hope and fervor passed on to succeeding descendants? Or the significance of our culture and identity as an essential Lenten celebration?

The Lenten season may only be an extended weekend break for some. Yet for devoted followers who continue this tradition it is a reminder of family, fealty, and a renewal of faith. 

Text by: Issa Urra
Photos by: Aeson Baldevia
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