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sanctuario de san antonio church

When you move around a lot, traditions are sometimes difficult to hold onto. Easter was no exception. By the time I was 10, we had really only celebrated with extended family about 2 times. Families from embassies, and schools became part of our circle, and for the many years on posting, became extended family.

Church had never been a huge part of my early childhood. Moving so much, it was almost impossible to even find a church, let alone attend one. When we moved to the Philippines, we discovered how much every celebration revolved around church and family, Sunday was sacred, which meant that church became part of our lives. My parents sent me to a religious affiliated school, where for 2 hours a day, I studied the bible (long story short, the head master was a former Roman Catholic (European) priest, who fell in love with a Filipina, got her pregnant, married her, and became an Anglican minister, but still ran everything like a Roman Catholic church, I know, it sounds funny, and it is), my parents didn’t realize at first how many hours of religious study I was actually doing, I never had homework. At 10, following one faith confused me,  in my house, my parents had always allowed us to go with various friends, to various churches, monasteries, and synagogues, questioning faith and religion, was a regular conversations in our house, I didn’t understand blind faith. I learned quickly that my open-minded/free spirit was not my head master’s ideal, he was determined to convert me regardless of what my parents thoughts were, or even what I thought – poor man, spent 2 years trying to convert me, and never did. I made the mistake of wiping ashes off my forehead after a school ash Wednesday mass, no body explained the significance. To him, his faith was pure and lovely, he hoped that everyone would want the same thing.

At 10, I was very leery of the idea of Easter, at least the religious aspect, it was such a foreign concept, we never really celebrated it, nor had I ever gone to church, but at 10, in the Manila, we went to our Anglican Church (my attendance was actually mandatory, I guess I forgot to mention, my headmaster also led the Anglican Church in my neighborhood this led to a lot of trouble in my house). You think the separation of church and state is necessary, I believe my headmaster needed to separate his church with school. That same day, right after our mass, we were also invited to the massive gathering at Sanctuario de San Antonio Perish. I was not exactly prepared for what I was about to witness.

There was a massive cross erected outside the church, and by massive, I mean it was the size of the church. We were ushered to one side, my Father looked confused, and not sure what the fuss was about. The procession began, and a man in rags walked defeated to the cross. He was hoisted up, and nailed to the cross. Yes, I am serious. You can take a few deep breath now.

Since no one prepared us for this (not exactly common or something that you read up on in Canada), my Father didn’t have time to cover my eyes, or shelter me from it. My Parents were stunned. Out of context it sounds crazy, why would a man voluntarily get nailed to the cross.  As much as we were all stunned, it didn’t feel strange or weird. We had lived there long enough to know that the Philippines was a deeply religious country, but openly so. The church and priests were in fact very open to dialogue, I went into the church often and asked questions for school projects. I would never have been welcomed that way in Canada. A man getting nailed to the cross was not horrifying, nor did it bother me, I actually understood it.

As an adult, that experience of watching Easter Sunday in the Philippines, makes me feel a little nostalgic. The Philippines was one of the most beautiful, friendly and loving experiences I had as a child. Even though I was forced to read the bible (I read the whole thing at 10), it made me open my eyes to new experiences, cultures and celebrations. I watched the same procession 3 years in a row (my headmaster actually thought I was inching closer to grasping Catholicism, which made him giddy). The same man was nailed each year. He was, by all accounts one of the most devoted Catholics I have every met. For him, this experience brought him closer to Jesus. I still believe that what that man did each year was beautiful, and I always admired that incredible and deep faith, even if was never my own.

My forced religious study never made me blindly faithful like that man, but it did make me interested in all religions and cultures. I might not have that deep devotion that my Head Master so desperately wanted for me, but I can still appreciate it.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!

Travel Lady