Good Friday hotspots where you can observe an intense ritual dating back to the Philippines’ Spanish era
Catholics may regard Easter Sunday as the most important day of Holy Week, but Good Friday is really when most of the action happens. This is especially true in the Philippines, where just about every Christian town and village observes the day with its own set of religious activities. Good Friday is, in fact, the perfect time for culture vultures to be out and about observing some of Christendom’s most intense rituals. Not surprisingly, many of these date back to the Spanish colonial era.
Via Crucis in Makati and Manila
In the area around Manila, tradition remains strong with a mix of prayers and pageantry displayed by devotees. Perhaps the most common Good Friday event is the Via Crucis, or Way of The Cross – an afternoon procession commemorating Christ’s crucifixion and death. Most parishes organize a Via Crucis, but one of the grandest is held right in the heart of the capital.
Makati Poblacion’s procession features dozens of finely carved statues on carrozas, accompanied by black-clad, barefooted paso “penitents”. This pious parade starts around sunset at the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Church, and makes its way through the streets of the old district.
On the other hand, downtown Manila’s Quiapo district hosts its own massive Via Crucis. The object of devotion is, of course, the centuries-old statue of the Black Nazarene – a miraculous image of the Suffering Christ. Devotees believe that touching this image, or any of the ropes that accompany it, will bestow blessings to the faithful. This procession begins at midnight on Friday, and ends at around 10AM when the statue is returned to its home inside the Quiapo Church.
Penitensya in Pampanga, Bulacan and Laguna
Another widely seen Good Friday ritual is the rather gruesome penitensya, which sees penitents lacerating their backs and flagellating themselves with wooden whips called burillos. This tradition is seen throughout the towns of Pampanga and Bulacan, parts of Makati, and a few other places in Laguna.
In the villages of San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando, and Barrio Kapitagan in Bulacan, the self-mortification reaches its climax with a handful of actual (and non-lethal!) crucifixions. Should you wish to see this annual spectacle, do make it a point to wear a disposable shirt (blood tends to get splattered about). And make sure to come well before 3PM – traditionally regarded as the time of Jesus’ death on the cross – when the rituals end.
Senakulo in Pasay City
Indeed, Good Friday commemorations can be intense, but there’s also room for theatrical performances. Pasay City’s Malibay district has held its Holy Week senakulo – a stage play depicting the life and death of Christ – continuously for over a century now.
The nearby village of Pio Del Pilar also holds its equally popular senakulo play at either Washington or Reyes street. Both productions are community-led, with an all-volunteer cast and crew.