Ah, the holidays. All the usual headlines, politics all the time, if it bleeds it leads, the government is incompetent. And that’s just in Manila.

The press is pretty well the same, with one exception. The Manila press doesn’t go out of it’s way to ignore Jesus Christ and why everyone in Manila is on a bus to Pampanga or a ferry to the Visayas to be with their family.

Here in the Provinces, it means visitors and lots of young folk in the City center park down the street sitting around talking and flirting and dancing. The older kids play ball, or run around playing or climbing up on the slide/monkey bars/rope attraction, and the younger kids play on the swings or the Noah’s ark animals with their moms or older sisters sitting on the benches nearby talking with friends.

All of this, of course, is combined with piety. Churches are packed for services, of course, but here it’s not too boring for little ones, who if they get restless can go outside and play or buy baloons, candy, or small toys from the vendors. All the doors are open, of course, for air, and if you are lucky, you can sit near a fan to stay cool. Before I lived here, I never understood the line about “sparrows finding a nest in you altars”, but here in the country our church indeed has sparrows that make nests, not on our altars, but on the ledges high above the altar.

Usually the Philippines gets into the western news with photos of bizarre customs like the flaggelants or those who crucify themselves for show of from piety. Such customs are not found in our area.

Here, the pious custom is the singing of the passion. In the days of the Spanish, there were no Bibles in the Native language, but priests did write books with the stories of the bible in the local dialects. And a tradition started that during the week before Good Friday, people would chant the passion day and night as a prayer. The custom is explained HERE:

The original Pasyon text was written in Tagalog in 1704 by Gaspar Aquino de Belen, a native from Batangas who worked for a Jesuit press in Manila.  It was entitled Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin na Tola.

Through the Pasyon, the Filipino poor could easily relate to Christ’s life, sacrifice and ascension to heaven as they search for hope and purpose in their own lives and struggle.

Other families who host the pabasa prepare food for anybody who would come to sing the Pasyon.  The pabasa could take two to three days, depending on the melody, and if the complete Pasyon is read.

Last year, the neighbors set up a small chapel in our street for the singing. But this year our family celebrated it in the local neighborhood chapel. Lolo’s mother, a schoolteacher, used to sing Pasyon every year, but now since everyone in our family have either emigrated or are working as doctors or nurses at the local hospital, we can only visit for shorter prayers, and supply money for the food for the singers.

To the rich in the West the latest fad is the “laws of attraction” that will give health, wealth and love. But here there is much comfort in the ancient story that God of the universe would come as a poor man, spend his life relieving the suffering of the poor, and suffer for his good deeds. And the folk custom of the “Pabasa” or singing of the Passion, is one way that people remember this.

Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and a very large extended family. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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