Why Pampanga folk cling to Holy Week spectacles despite Church disapproval

Joann Manabat

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Why Pampanga folk cling to Holy Week spectacles despite Church disapproval

NATIVE CHRIST. Ruben Enaje hangs on the cross for nine minutes at a makeshift hill in Barangay San Pedro Cutud, City of San Fernando Pampanga on April 7, 2023

Joann Manabat

in his 34th crucifixion in 37 years, Ruben Enaje's prayers seek deliverance from war for the people of Ukraine

PAMPANGA, Philippines  – Rosalinda Manikan left home in Bacolor, Pampanga early on Good Friday, April 7.

Her goal was to witness for the first time the crucifixion of Pampanga’s Kristo, Ruben Enaje in Brgy San Pedro Cutud, City of San Fernando.

Rosalinda left her Roman Catholic Faith several years ago to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly called the Mormon church).

Still, she wept while watching Enaje on the cross and stayed until he was taken down.

“Naawa ako, naiyak ako kasi para bang may kirot ang nararamdaman ko,” Rosalinda told Rappler in an interview. (I felt sympathy; it touched me in a different way.)

Enaje’s sufferings – flagellation as he carried his cross along dusty streets under a blazing sun, to the nailing and the hanging – are expressions of great devotion, religious belief, and faith, said Rosalinda.

The Catholic Church frowns on self-harm or mortification as acts of atonement

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) suggests prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent.

For 56-year-old Rosalinda, however, enduring the sufferings of Christ is a sign of steadfast faith.

“Habang noong pinapanood ko, nung tinatayo na siya, parang naaawa ako. Kaya sabi ko, buti matatag siya,”  she said. (As I felt pity watching them raise his cross, I thought, it is a good thing he has deep faith.)

“Ang sakin naman kahit mag pray ka lang sa bahay, pwede naman,” she told Rappler. (I believe praying at home is enough.) 

“Sabi naman nila panata nila yun. Sabi nila penitensiya nila yan. Kaya nirerespeto ko pa din ang paniniwala ng iba,” she added. (They say it is their devotion, their penitence. And I respect the belief of others.)

COMPASSION. Rosalinda Manikan, who left the Roman Catholic Church when she converted to the Mormon faith some years back, recalls weeping while watching the reenactment of Christ’s passion in Brgy. San Pedro Cutud, City of San Fernando, Pampanga on Good Friday, April 7, 2023. Joann Manabat
Native Christs

Enaje has been crucified 34 times in 37 years since 1986.

He doesn’t think of anything else other than his family and prayers during the reenactment of Christ’s Passion. 

This year, his main prayer is for the people trapped in the Russia-Ukraine war.

This year also, Enaje had to dig deep for strength.

“May takot pang konti nun kaya palakad-lakad ako kung nakikita niyo. Medyo kinakabahan dahil talagang nanibago ako, tatlong taon kasi,” Enaje ​​recalled at the post-crucifixion press briefing. 

(I felt some fear, that’s why you saw me walking back and forth. I was worried because I had not done it for three years.)

He was referring to the scuttling of traditional Lenten spectacles as the Philippines grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Feeling the weight of the cross fortified the spirit, said Enaje.

As he spoke, other flagellants arrived at the makeshift hill standing in for Mount Golgotha, the area where Jesus died just outside Jerusalem’s walls.

The flagellants prayed and then hang their thorny crowns on the same cross Enaje used for his crucifixion. 

Enaje arrived at the site on a bicycle.

As he underwent a medical checkup, he confessed to nerves. 

Before men masquerading as Roman centurions nailed him, Enaje prayed “The Lord’s Prayer” to find his calm center.

Nine penitents in all were nailed to the cross in Pampanga’s capital this year: one from Brgy. San Juan, three from Brgy. Sta. Lucia, and five from Brgy. San Pedro Cutud, including Enaje.

More than a thousand flagellants across all barangays in the city participated in the cultural practice, said city tourism officer Ching Pangilinan

“We have seen a rise in the number of penitents compared to the previous years but as to the number of people nailed to the cross, it’s the same number of people we’ve had previously,” Pangilinan said.

In awe

Foreign national Jolyon De Fossard and his wife Lea came to the event.

But they were not able to witness the crucifixion after Jolyon nearly collapsed from the heat.

Afterward, in an interview, he expressed awe at the penitents’ devotion and their families’ support for the tradition.

Christian by faith, Jolyon said learning the difference in culture and religious beliefs has been a humbling experience.

“I have never seen a stronger expression of faith and love for Christ in any way. There are lots of ways people feel pain and suffering, and obviously what they are doing is a very physical expression and a very powerful expression, because they are inflicting pain to maybe deal with their own demons,” he told Rappler. 

“It’s a very different culture to the one I am used to and it’s quite humbling really to see people express their faith and love this way,” added Jolyon, who is also a Rappler+ member.

Local officials also said there has been a significant rise in the number of foreign attendees this year but they did not give figures.

COUPLES. Jolyan De Fossard and partner Lea take a breather at a nearby sai-sari store during the Good Friday reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion in San Fernando, Pampanga, on April 7, 2023. Joann Manabat
Keeping faith

San Fernando Vice Mayor BJ Lagman said the city government would continue to support and regulate Holy Week activities to ensure solemnity.

“As long as there are individuals that do their penance, the city government will continue to support and regulate the said Maleldo celebration,” he said. “We hope hindi lang ito occasion na pinapanood kundi isinasapuso (not just a spectacle but a message you should absorb).”

“This is not a festivity that we celebrate but it is aligned with the Holy Week celebration. We hope next year we can improve the facility,” the vice mayor said.

Pangilinan said they would intervene to ensure the health, safety, and security of the participants.

The continuing Senakulo, she added, is a sign of respect for the Holy Week tradition of the locals. Brgy. San Pedro Cutud tarted its senakulo in 1955. –

1 comment

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  1. JF

    Thank you for the lovely and fascinating article.

    I’m still embarrassed to remember that as men were being crucified; I was sitting in a sweaty heap being fanned by caring people trying to cool me down. The irony and bathos of this is not lost on me. I didn’t even have the strength to spectate!

    Next year we will get there earlier!

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