Not everyone’s Catholic

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

IN THIS past week of crowded pilgrimages to religious sites like the Divine Mercy and Guadalupe shrines, heavily Instagrammed Visita Iglesias, and overuse of the hashtag #HolyWeek2014, one cannot help but think that this generation’s observance of Holy Week has come a long way from how it was practiced by our parents and grandparents.

Nevertheless, Semana Santa remains a major tradition among Filipinos, and the media’s coverage of this has grown steadily through the years. What often escapes the spotlight, however, is the non-religious, pragmatic, business-related side of things. What happens when malls and most other establishments are closed in observance of Holy Week?

Not everyone’s Catholic, after all.


Last Friday in Marvilla Beach Resort in Opol, cottages were not exactly scarce but they weren’t lacking in occupants either. It would have made sense if no Catholics were in sight, but Joan (not her real name) and her family from Malaybalay, Bukidnon were at the beach. They had been visiting the Divine Mercy Shrine in El Salvador the day before, and Joan said it was fine to be at the beach because they had finished their religious obligations anyway.

She said that both the shrine and the beach, despite taking them some distance from home, are yearly traditions. Three employees at the resort, also Catholics, revealed that they should have been absent from work to be at church — if not for their employers who left them to run operations that day. They, at least, did not find it strange that Catholics would be at the beach on Good Friday, saying "it is summer anyway."

It seems that in a business-oriented view of the Holy Week, there are three kinds of work establishments. There are people who work every day of the year, Maundy Thursdays and Good Fridays included — like farmers, security personnel, and that boy who sells rags at an uptown gasoline station, reminiscent of Nick Joaquin’s essay “A Heritage of Smallness.”

There are much larger enterprises — like malls, boutiques, and restaurants — that can afford to close shop and not operate for at least the Friday. Then there are those businesses — beach resorts, for instance — that are frequented more than ever because the Holy Week holidays fall on timely seasons — but again, not everyone’s Catholic.

From the proprietor side, of course, beaches are rightfully popular given the summer heat, but from the consumer side, in this case, beaches seem to become an alternative to malls for non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics, as well as a sort of incentive for the Catholics after a week of penitence.

Taking off from something written last Palm Sunday, I might as well ask: Did your Holy Week feel holy to you, or did it all just lead up to today’s Easter Sunday in the (ta da) beach?

Technology is not the only thing to have changed about the Filipino observance of Semana Santa; even the manner and the context of observing are now modernizing — and whether or not for the better, no one can say.

With the way traditions have been evolving in this country, there just seems to be one problem. That technologies constantly update and markets incorporate them into their faiths is only appropriate.

Religion plays such a pivotal role in the lives of most Filipinos, after all — not a far cry from the way things were in the colonial years. However, religion as an institution is dynamic and manifold: it is moved by its constituents, not the other way around; and it is not limited to Catholicism.

It’s funny how for all the information technology this generation can access, we still haven’t gotten around to accepting that. (Ena Jarales, ADMU Intern)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 20, 2014.


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