'Our God is a God of happy endings'

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Even in the midst of all kinds of struggle and hardship, Filipinos can look forward to their own "happy endings," like the story of Christ.

Church officials concede that with Philippine culture predisposed to suffering, Filipinos have come to regard the passion and death of Christ as the essence of Holy Week.

"But if we are to look at Christ's story, it's not all about suffering. Our God is a God of happy endings so if it is not yet happy, then it is not yet the end," said Fr. Carmelo Arada, a minister of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of Manila.

Arada said Filipinos must also learn to look forward to a happy life amid poverty and suffering and "let Christ's story be our story, too."

Jesus, born of a virgin, was crucified to save mankind and three days later was raised from the dead. "It is important to highlight the resurrection to show them that there is more to life than suffering," he said.

It is for this reason that the Catholic Church has been discouraging penitents from undergoing crucifixion and flagellation "so we can keep up with Christ's story," the priest said.

Three days before Easter Sunday, marking Christ's resurrection, devout Filipino Catholics perform various religious rituals and practices to commemorate Christ's suffering and death.

Small groups in practically every neighborhood in the country gather for the "pabasa" or the marathon chanting or singing of "pasyon" from Holy Thursday to Good Friday, while others go to various churches for the traditional Lenten Visita Iglesia.

Others--penitents and flagellants--literally copy the passion of Christ by whipping themselves and allowing themselves to be nailed to the cross as an act of faith and as atonement for their sins.

Offices and commercial establishments shut down while local television and radio stations suspend regular programming to give way to religious or solemn shows.

Essence lost to many

But a majority of the faithful go back to their regular routine come Easter Sunday, its essence lost to many.

"For Filipinos, what is popular during the Holy Week is the passion of Christ, his flagellation, crucifixion and death because we are very much predisposed to suffering," said Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz in a separate interview.

In its book, "Catechism for Filipino Catholics," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it was reasonable that Filipino Catholics would focus "almost uniquely" on the crucified Jesus "given our own situation of poverty and suffering."

Unfamiliar

The CBCP said the importance of the Resurrection was often missed because "it is not something 'familiar' to our ordinary experience."

"Many Filipino Catholics today seem to feel uneasy if asked to explain the meaning and implications of Christ's Resurrection," it said. "They have no idea of what this means nor do they know how to 'live out' its implications in their lives."

Summit

Easter, not Christmas or Holy Week, is the summit of Christianity, Cruz said.

But the Church can only do so much to highlight the importance of Easter among Filipinos because suffering and poverty as well as the love for children are already deeply rooted in Philippine culture, said Cruz.

"Culturally, Filipinos live in poverty and we also love children so we embrace Holy Week and we fondly celebrate Christmas," he added.

But he offered a tip on how the ordinary faithful could live out Christ's resurrection and celebrate a meaningful Easter: "Rise up from your sins and live again in a state of grace."

This was, of course, apart from hearing Mass and receiving communion on Easter Sunday, Cruz said.

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