Commemorating Holy Week in the Philippines

The Lenten season is a common part of Filipino culture. It is one of the most anticipated religious events in the Philippines.

During this time, people often get together with their families and reflect on the status of their lives. Some families also participate in different Holy Week activities in the Philippines.

One of the most popular activities during the Lenten season in the Philippines is Visita Iglesia, where people go to several churches in different places. Visita Iglesia or Seven (7) Churches visitation is a staple tradition for most Filipino Roman Catholics. It was first initiated by Saint Philip Neri around 1553. During Saint Philip Neri’s time, seven churches visitation or Visita Iglesia was done by leaving the church where they attended a Mass of the Lord’s Supper and traveling to nearby churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

While most Filipinos focus on the religious aspect of the Lenten season, many use this time to escape the hustle and bustle of life in Metro Manila and other big cities and just seek comfort and freedom from everyday stress. To achieve this, they usually go to different Holy Week destinations with friends and family to unwind. Whether it’s going to the beach or hiking in the mountains, the Lenten season is also treated as a much-awaited break for most Filipinos.

Traditions are a part of our culture, but the pandemic has pushed Filipinos to celebrate Holy Week differently. During the lockdown, people weren’t able to attend masses in person. Instead, Holy Week masses were live-streamed on social media, TV, and radio. Although this might affect the Lenten spirit often shared by the devout, it is necessary to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

The devout Filipino Catholic community also had to forgo their usual Lenten practices, such as Visita Iglesias, during the pandemic. Fortunately, Bonifacio High Street and Without Walls Ministries facilitated, “Walkway: Journey to the Cross of Christ” — a virtual take of BGC’s annual Stations of the Cross.

Through this interactive online platform, Filipinos can go through each of the 14 stations, reflect, and pray as we commemorate the passion and death of Jesus Christ.  There is also a Walkway Kids Edition that shows a special map that may help guide parents and kids as they go through the stations together.

And that’s not all, they are also offered other virtual activities like an Easter Expedition so Filipino families can celebrate in the comfort of their own homes. There’s also an Easter concert live-streamed on BGC’s Facebook page, which was headlined by Concert King, Martin Nievera.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has also taken the time to set up a virtual “Visita Iglesia in 360” experience. This allowed people to take a 28-minute, 360-degree tour of 14 different Catholic churches in the country, one church for every Station of the Cross.

Featured churches are the following:

  • Nino Church in Anda, Bohol
  • Church of St. James the Apostle in Betis, Pampanga
  • Joseph Cathedral in Butuan City, Butuan
  • James the Great Parish in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte
  • Palo Metropolitan Cathedral in Palo, Leyte
  • Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion in Maragondon, Cavite
  • Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo
  • Agustin Church in Panglao, Bohol
  • Augustine Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
  • Joseph Cathedral in Romblon Island, Romblon
  • San Sebastian Church in Quiapo, Manila
  • Church of San Diego de Alcala in Silay, Negros Occidental
  • San Isidro Labrador Church in Lazi, Siquijor
  • Our Lady of the Abandoned in Sta. Ana, Manila

In addition to providing virtual experiences to Filipinos, parishioners thought of ways to make celebrating mass more entertaining for them and their viewers. As such, the Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles City, Pampanga has found a way to include its parishioners while they celebrate mass. With pictures that were sent via e-mail and social media, the church printed out over 900 family portraits and stuck them on the church’s pews as the priests celebrate mass. The church has also live-streamed its mass celebrations on Facebook.

In an interview with GMA’s Stand For Truth, Rev. Fr. Mark de Leon said that they thought of this as a way to virtually include their parishioners.

He also said that this helped the priests feel as if the church isn’t empty. Because of this, they get to feel as if the church is still packed with parishioners while they celebrate Holy Week.

Although it feels like we’re completely back to normal right now, we’re still not completely out of the woods. Even if most Filipinos are free to go out and do the things they normally did before the pandemic, some of us still cannot go to crowded places, such as churches, due to different health issues.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate the Lenten season like other Filipinos. If you are limited by your health and cannot visit different Holy Week destinations, you can still celebrate the Lenten season at home.

For example, you can always set a time for the whole family to pray together. Make sure to be grateful for the blessings you’ve received throughout the year and repent for your sins. You can also give up something as a family during the Holy Week, such as a type of food or extra stuff in your house that you no longer need.

Additionally, you can watch Holy Week movies to help you reflect on the Lenten season and deepen your faith. Here are some of the films you can watch:

  • Heaven Is For Real (2014)
  • The Passion of the Christ (2004)
  • God’s Not Dead (2014)
  • Son of God (2014)
  • The Nativity Story (2006)

Commemorating the Lenten season is a tradition for most Filipino families. But you should still stay informed while celebrating Holy Week to ensure the safety of your loved ones.

Whether you’re commuting or driving to the province, it’s best to stay updated regarding transportation schedules and road closures during the Lenten season. And, if you’re staying at home, make sure to stock up on essentials and learn the Holy Week schedules of malls and stores to be prepared for the holidays.