Manila (AsiaNews) – updated
In the Philippines, Holy Week celebrations are famous worldwide for voluntary crucifixions that have always been condemned by the local Church. Less known is instead is the personal preparation of each believer in the recitation of the Pabasa ng Pasyon (Passion of Christ in Tagalog) a chant-like song imported from Spanish missionaries, passed down for centuries from father to son. The Pabasa is a chant that tells of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and was composed in the seventeenth century by Spanish missionaries, adapting the European biblical tradition to the oral and melodic traditions of the indigenous Filipinos however the actual Pabasa is no more rooted in the Spanish language.
The illeterate people asked for a version in local dialect so that they could become familiar with the events regarding Jesus. The first version written in Tagalog language dates back to 1704 and was made by Gaspar Aquino de Belen, an native of Batangas in the service of the Jesuits in Manila. It was entitled Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon Natin na Tola ( The poem of the Blessed Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord). Another popular version of the Pasyon the “Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni JesuCristong Panginoon Natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa” (The History of the Passion of Jesus Christ our Lord that will set afire the heart of whosoever reads it), has been published by an unknown writer in 1814. It starts with few stanzas about the Creation of the World and it ends with some words about the Apocalipses of Juan. This text continues to be used to the present day among the Tagalogs . The group of Pasyon singers is usually divided into two and the singing would alternate between them. The verses are structured in five-line stanzas, with each line containing eight syllables. A complete stanza can be chanted in only one breath. For instance:
Tanto rin naming lahat na / Bayang tinubunan Niya / Ito ay taga Galilea / Tawong Duk-ha at hamak na / Naquiquisunong talaga . (We all know, too / The town he hails from / He is from Galilea / A man poor and lowly / Who shelters in others’roofs)
Today the pabasa could go on for three days, depending on the melody and if most of the Pasyon is read. Usually it starts at 6 a.m. and finish by 10 p.m., but some Pabasa continue until early in the morning of the next day creating some problems when powerful amplifiers are used to spread around the singing in the nearby surrounding keeping awake people who, instead, prefer to sleep.
Maria Cristina Lapara, a Catholic from Manila, said: “I have recited the Pabasa since I was a child. I learned this traditional song from my grandparents, who were illiterate but very religious and participate wholeheartedly in the passion, singing without written texts”. She added; “I tell my children to pray with their heart and recite the Pabasa and I hope that in future they will continue this tradition.” During Holy Week, Maria Cristina gets up every morning at three o’clock to recite the song. ”At this time – she says – we must maintain an atmosphere of sobriety and spiritual reflection, we should not make noise on the streets, it is not a time of celebration.”
The woman points out that there are many ways to recite the prayer alone, in pairs or communities, for a few hours or days. Many families provide food for all those involved in the recitation of the song, while in rural villages the faithful gather in the street, where every day from 6 am to 10 am both young and old together recite prayers. Even in the prisons of the country inmates are expected to recite the song (First time visitors to the jail during Holy Week are amazed to find detainees taking turns in the Pabasa).
For Maria Cristina, the Pabasa allows the faithful to share in Christ’s sufferings and is useful especially for the poor to remember the sacrifice of Jesus and his Resurrection, finding the strength to face their daily difficulties with hope. “The Pabasa is not only way to fulfil the precepts of Lent – says Fr. Fernando Caprio of the Archdiocese of Manila – it is also a way to follow Christ and be witnesses of faith around the world and helps us remember that Christ shines in all the circumstances of our lives. “
Read also : “Pasyon and revolution: popular movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910“ , of Reynaldo Clemeña Ileto