WHILE Filipinos observe Holy Week with the traditional pabasa, visita iglesia, siete palabras and senakulo, fellow Asian Catholics from India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Bangladesh relive the passion of Christ with inter-religious fervor. These Catholics from predominantly Muslim or Hindu countries commemorate Lent with blood donation, youth retreats, and Easter prayer services that attract even non-Catholics to join.

“The Church in Asia communicates the Gospel in a way that is faithful both to her own tradition and Asian identity.” Fr. George Mamurha, SVD, an Indian student at the UST Graduate School, told the Varsitarian. “Despite their minority number, Christians across the continent make conscientious efforts to witness to their faith amid a variety of religions.”

Asia’s passion

In Bombay, India, parishioners join a procession of a truck that serves as a makeshift stage for actors reenacting Jesus’ carrying of the cross. Similar to the Philippine senakulo, this play dramatizes Christ’s passion and death.

The Archdiocese also holds a blood-donation drive to imitate Christ’s redemptive blood shedding. The donors, who fast before donating blood, consider this practice their highest expression of charity to commemorate Christ’s sacrifice.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people walk through the streets of Mumbai, India, to watch the reenactment of the last two hours of Christ’s life. Both the young and the elderly, with some even walking barefoot, attend the Good Friday procession, which began in Mumbai only 20 years ago. The procession stops at street corners and residential areas where participants utter prayers marking the 14 Stations of the Cross.

According to Fr. Sebastian Quadros, SVD, an Indian student at De La Salle University, Mumbai’s Way of the Cross also attracts Hindu participants in the hope that their petitions will be granted. Catholics make up 1.5 per cent of India’s one billion people.

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“Some of the non-Christians who join the procession had already been participants in the past who return to give thanks and testimony for their granted petitions,” Quadros said.

Like the crowded streets of Mumbai, the province of Flores in Indonesia gathers thousand of parishioners and pilgrims for an observance of the Way of the Cross, Veneration of the Cross, and procession during Good Friday.

“The event fosters a sense of solidarity and unity among Catholics all over the island. No event such as this is held in any part of the country apart from Flores,” said Fr. Hermanos Yosef Ga, a UST Canon Law student in the Ecclesiastical Faculties who hails from Flores. Catholics make up only three per cent of Indonesia’s population.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Lahore in Pakistan has been organizing youth Lenten seminars, retreats, and Bible readings for the past 15 years. At present, the retreats have become an annual feature with themes focusing on spirituality and other timely discussions that cater to the youth’s interests.

“Lenten retreats are organized to give the Catholic youth a taste of Christ’s life through meditation and prayer,” said Pakistani Bro. Joseph Ynus, SSCC, who recently finished Clinical Pastoral Education at the UST Hospital. “By attending the retreat, the youth refrains from materialism which helps them establish closeness with God.”

While Pakistani youngsters gather for a silent meditative assembly, other Christians rally together on foot in a pilgrimage to the century-old National Marian Shrine in Mariamabad, located 80 kilometers from Lahore. The Marian Shrine is considered as “Asia’s Lourdes” and attracts Christian and Muslim pilgrims all year round as Muslims also believe in Mary as the most blessed among women. Catholics in Pakistan make up 1.5 percent of total population.

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In Vietnam, the clergy are known for helping migrant workers in Ho Chi Minh City maintain their religious life through Lenten recollections. The retreats serve as opportunities for the migrants to share their difficulties and aspiration with parishioners.

“These help the Catholics from the area empathize with the workers and interact more with them,” Sr. Elizabeth Hao, FMM, a Vietnamese student at the College of Education, said. “They are aimed to help migrant workers realize that they are responsible for living the Good News and proclaiming the Gospel to people in their workplace.”

In the Philippines, Catholics visit seven different churches while praying for their petitions in a practice called visita iglesia.

“This practice enables Catholics to pray while immersing themselves within church walls,” Sr. Edilyne Lapara, O.P., a chaplain at the UST Hospital, said.

Filipinos also stage the passion of Jesus in a play called senakulo where penitents sometimes line up for crucifixions. In fact, 19 crucifixions took place this year in different parts of the country despite the Catholic Church’s discouragement.

“The ritual is inauthentic and risky. There is no need to replicate the crucifixion of Jesus because Catholics only need to live the death and resurrection of Jesus by living concretely the Gospel values,” Msgr. Pedro Quitorio III, media spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told the Varsitarian.

Say it loud

At Eater, Asians observances of the Lenten Triduum end in a heavenly frenzy.

In the early hours of Easter Sunday, about 25,000 Protestants and Catholics assemble in the southern plaza of the National Parliament Building in the Muslim-dominated Bangladesh. Loudspeakers fill the air with music as dawn breaks over the city, while songs and speeches are sung and recited to proclaim Christ’s resurrection. Catholics, including Christians, compose less than one percent of the population.

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“Easter sunrise prayer services provide a forum to spread the message that all must forget misunderstanding and develop trust in building the nation. It teaches us to reach out to our brethren regardless of religious affiliations in fostering social harmony and solidarity,” said Sr. Josephine Rozario, MSSI, a Bangladeshi Graduate School student at UST.

Moreover, Filipinos reenact the dramatic reunion of Christ and Mary in the salubong, which takes place before the dawn of Easter Sunday. During this celebration, the statues of the Risen Christ and of the Blessed Virgin are brought in procession on different routes. The two statues meet inside the church while an Easter song and the Gloria are sung. Children who stage as angels in a high portico lift the sorrowful veil of the Blessed Virgin, a sign of celebration.

A diversity in unity, Christians live and witness the same death and resurrection of Jesus through their unique Lenten and Easter practices. Christians may constitute a small percentage of the Asian population but they gather with the rest in observing Christ’s passion, resurrection and central message of unity and peace which Asia needs most. Santosh Kumar Digal


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