Sunday, April 20, 2014

Back to business as usual

This is my column today, April 20, 2014. 


It’s Easter Sunday today.  There will be a flurry of text messages as well as shoutouts in social networking sites proclaiming the significance of the occasion as if we all needed to be reminded that Jesus Christ was crucified last Friday and was risen from the dead today.   Passages from The Bible will be quoted and passed around.  There will be special feasts in some hotels and restaurants as well as Easter egg hunts.  Theoretically, Easter Sunday is the most important religious event in Christendom.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest story in Christianity.  But then again, most of us in this country are stuck with the rituals rather than the substance.  Holy week is a season, which means that it has a specific prescription period.
So for most, today is simply the day that marks the end of a long weekend. Many will try to cram this day full of unfinished tasks and unfulfilled promises.  For the tens of thousands who will be coming back to Metro Manila after spending time in the province, it will yet be another day of battling the other tens of thousands of commuters for precious space on the road. 
For more than ten years now, I have made it a point to stay home during the Holy Week.  There was a time during my younger days when I also joined the mass exodus out of the Metro and into some places where one could – supposedly - peacefully commune with nature and spend time in quiet reflection. But after being stuck at the North Luzon Expressway and in the Pampanga-Tarlac stretch for more than ten hours sometime in the late nineties, I swore never again to submit myself to the aggravation.  Besides, I discovered that most of the people who join the mad rush out of Manila also tend to bring the party spirit to their respective destinations and enjoin everyone else to celebrate the holiest season in the Christian calendar in most unholy way possible.  While I don’t think everyone should flagellate themselves and starve in the name of faith, I do think there are more appropriate ways to pass time during the Holy Week other than gyrating to loud music and consuming tons of alcohol. 
I have since come to the conclusion that the best place to be during the Holy Week is Metro Manila.  It’s the only time during the whole year when there’s less congestion and pollution in the national capital. 
Unfortunately, this year seemed like an exception.  Although our media networks made a big to do with the bedlam that occurred at the exit points of the metro Wednesday night supposedly caused by the bazillions of people who wanted to get out, it did seem like many residents of the city also decided to stay home this year as evidenced by the unusually heavy traffic during the Holy Week. 
Of course it can be argued that this was because government chose to make use of the four-day holiday to go full blast with various construction projects, but there really seemed to be more people who did the Visita Iglesia this year.  Restaurants and yes, even Starbucks cafes were unusually full last Thursday. Traffic was so bad that for the first time in 10 years, we cut our annual visitation of churches to seven, from the usual 14.  I know.  Visiting 14 churches may strike some people as an overkill; but we’ve always been able to accomplish the task, very often arriving at the 14th church just when they are about to transfer the Blessed Sacrament back to the main church.
I must admit though that my motivation for doing the Visita Iglesia has not always been 100% religion.  A large part of the visitation has always been cultural and architectural appreciation – I’ve always tended to look at churches as great reminders of the richness of our culture as reflected in way we practice our faith.  Although our churches are supposed to be bastions of the same Catholic faith, there is no denying that each community finds expression of its own spirit and temperament in the way they dress up altars and even organize church activities.  Some churches are ultra conservative, others are very open and accepting of new ideas, still others are heavily politicized.  The various altars of repose are always an interesting study of the operating religious culture of the community.  This year, for example, I was struck by the way the Sta. Ana Church in Manila chose to situate their altar of repose in the current times, against a backdrop of boiling issues of the day such as corruption and inefficiency in government.  No wonder really that many people are unable to resist the temptation to take selfies with the various altars as background.
The holy week ends today. It’s business as usual tomorrow.  And sadly, that does not bode well for us given what we had to endure prior to the Holy Week.

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