Many Filipinos observe Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and prayer for Christians before Easter, with penitence, some allowing themselves to be crucified on Good Friday, and others beating themselves until their bodies bleed, a practice they believe will cleanse their sins.
Other Filipinos take time out to go to the beach or to mountain resorts as the end of the Lenten period is a long weekend holiday for many people to escape the humid and hot summer weather in the lowlands.
Both extremes of observing Lent – bloody penitence on the one hand, and merrymaking on the other – are a challenge to some Filipino church leaders, who wish to help the faithful commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"We [as church leaders] have a great responsibility to explain to people about real penitence," Bishop Benjamin Justo of the United Methodist Church told Ecumenical News International. "Instead of letting oneself be nailed to a cross, why not give free manual labour to one’s neighbour?" The bishop, however, says of those who undergo crucifixion and beatings, "We have to respect them because ultimately this is between them and God."
Still, the Rev. Simplicio Dang-awan Jr of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, says "physical penitence like nailing one’s body to a cross is useless and contrary to biblical teaching". He told ENI, "The sacrifice of Jesus is once and for all, which no human being can duplicate."
He described penitence as internal cleansing. This, he says, requires "conviction of our sins and asking God through his Holy Spirit, forgiveness of our sins so we can experience conversion and consecration of our lives to a lifetime of service of gratitude to, faith in, and love for God, people and country."
In its Easter message, the National Council of Churches in the Philippinesn (NCCP), a grouping of Protestant denominations, stressed humility and caring for others as it reflected on the resurrection of Jesus.
"Christ’s resurrection is for us because it banished sin and broke the culture of death, "the council said in a message signed by its chairperson, Bishop Nathanael Lazaro, and its general secretary the Rev. Rex Reyes.
"Concretely, the resurrection of Christ is freedom from the structures that enslave the human body and spirit," it said. "The message of Easter is the joyous celebration of the knowledge that Christ has set us free and that we can and should stand firm and never submit ‘again to a yoke of slavery’," the NCCP said, quoting the letter of St Paul to the Galatians (5:1).
Ecumenical News International
Photo : WORLD NEWS