As a predominantly Roman Catholic people, Cebuanos commemorate the Holy Week religiously. Locally known as “Semana Santa,” the week leading up to Easter Sunday is considered among the holiest of Christian celebrations and Filipinos usually have a wide array of activities lined up for these holy days.
In fact, in 2011, the Cebu City government released approximately 10,000 promotional brochures depicting the city as a center for religious tourism, specifically indicating locations of various Holy Week activities. The government collaborated with the Archdiocese of Cebu in order to come up with a comprehensive list of activities.
Aside from the two-day work break, the Holy Week gives us a break from the hustle and bustle of worldly existence and it allows us to reflect on our lives as Christians. Here are some of the traditional activities that we Cebuanos engage in every Holy Week.
- Last February 22, we observed Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten Season or the 40-day liturgical period of fasting and prayer. Catholics observe this holy day by having ashes placed on their foreheads, which symbolizes repentance to God. These ashes are the burnt remains of the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.
- Palm Sunday, which is also known as Passion Sunday, commences the Holy Week. This year, we will recall Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on April 1, 2012. Palm leaves shaped into crosses will be sold outside churches at approximately Php5 to Php25 each, depending on its size and how intricate the design is. Devotees will wave these palm leaves as a priest sprinkles holy water on them and recites a prayer for blessing in a tradition called as “Bendita sa Lukay.”
- A number of recollections and retreats will be held from Monday (April 2) to Thursday (April 5). You can inquire with your parishes for their respective schedules. A listing of the basic contact information can be found at Everything Cebu’s Catholic Churches in Cebu City.
- The “Pabasa,” or the “Pasyon,” is usually conducted after Palm Sunday and should end by noontime of Good Friday. This is the traditional reading of the “Pasyong Mahal ni Hesus” or the passion of Christ. Devotees untiringly chant the verses, which could last as long as two consecutive days.
- “Tinieblas” or morning prayers will be observed from Maundy Thursday (April 5) until Black Saturday (April 7).
- The last supper of Christ with his disciples will be celebrated in a Mass on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday (April 5). This is considered the last Mass before Easter and includes a re-enactment of the washing of the Apostles’ feet. Also known as the Mass of the Institution of the Lord's Supper, a procession of the Blessed Sacrament towards the Altar of Repose follows the Eucharistic celebration.
- The “Visita Iglesia” is customarily performed on Maundy Thursday. This tradition involves visiting a several churches or a single church and praying the Stations of the Cross. Celestial Gardens in the hills of Banawa, Cebu City, is most visited during Holy Week because of the life-size Stations of the Cross.
- Good Friday is the celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The Seven Last Words and other films about the life and death of Jesus Christ are aired on various local TV and radio channels. There are also various religious organizations that give live portrayals, such as the “Buhing Kalbaryo” and the “Senakulo.”
- “Buhing Kalbaryo,” which is a re-enactment of the Jesus Christ’s agony as he approaches his crucifixion, is a traditional street play staged during Good Friday. This year, we observe Good Friday on April 6, 2012. In 2011, the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Nicolas de Tolentino hosted the event, wherein actors sang and performed various biblical roles as they walked through V. Rama Avenue.
- At 3 p.m. of Good Friday, the time traditionally believed to be Christ’s death, devotees venerate the death of the Son of God by observing a prayerful disposition. The solemn procession of Santo Entierro, or the dead Christ, will take place in the late afternoon.
- The Easter Vigil is observed on the evening of Black Saturday and preparations are made for Easter Sunday.
- The Easter feast on Easter Sunday (April 8, 2012) is the culmination of the Holy Week and compared to the previous days, this day takes on a festive mood. At dawn, a solemn procession of the images of the Risen Christ and the Mater Dolorosa starts the Easter Sunday activities. The procession, also called the Sugat, will conclude in the church grounds where a play on the revelation of Christ’s resurrection is performed. In Cebu, a number of churches will depict the death of Judas creatively using fireworks. The Easter Mass will be celebrated afterwards. In Minglanilla, the Kabanhawan Festival is a widely popular event. The town has earned popularity with their unique rendition of the “Sugat.”
If you are looking for a diverse experience, head over to Bantayan Island, Cebu. The residents of Bantayan Island observe the “Pasko Sa Kasakit,” which involves a unique mix of activities. Since the Holy Week also coincides with the island’s local fiesta celebration, solemn religious rites are conducted alongside festive activities.
How about you? How do you observe Holy Week?
A) Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu Pilgrim Center
Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City, Philippines
B) Cebu City Alliance Church
Junquera Street 6000, 6000, Philippines
C) Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church
Guadalupe, Cebu City 6000, Philippines
D) St. Therese Church
Edison St., Lahug, Cebu City 6000, Philippines
E) Bible Baptist Church
Calamba, Cebu City, Philippines
F) Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish
N. Escario Street, Cebu City 6000, Philippines
G) Sacred Heart Church
D. Jakosalem Street, Cebu City 6000, Philippines
H) University of San Jose-Recoletos
Magallanes Street, Cebu City, Philippines
I) San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church
San Nicolas Proper, Cebu City, Philippines
J) Fortress Bible Baptist Church
Sanson Rd, Cebu City 6000, Philippines