I have always preferred to spend the Holy Week in Manila. The city is achingly beautiful when it is half-deserted, its corners lit by a newfound quietness, and her streets hauntingly welcoming. And while many establishments are closed, it only serves to encourage the men and women left behind to contemplate on their lives in the city. Senses are focus-sharpened in the emptiness of the metropolis as one is forced to be more perceptive in order to hear the whispers of a temporarily depopulated city.
It never made sense to me to see the Holy Week as a vacation. Growing up in a Catholic family, we spent the height of the Lenten season in adherence to the Vatican. No meat on Good Friday. Way of the cross. Easter vigil. Practices of self-mortification. While we weren’t as into the “passion” as the more fanatically religious men and women who practiced self-flagellation would be, there was always an air of solemnity at home, a mystical eloquence often missed out by the devoted but doctrine-less (as most Filipino Catholics are), a pious devotion which spurred interior silence and quiet reflection.
We were never the family to join the exodus to the provinces and then back to Manila. Why endure the standstill in our third-world road networks? I was never the type to go to the beaches too. Why escape the claustrophobia of Manila to spend a weekend of debauchery in a crowded beach?
The summer heat, which becomes most insufferable on Holy Week as if to inflict as much discomfort as possible, often encourages loose morals. Partying in such a sombre mood is simply too strange and out of myself. I have my Fridays and work leaves for my vacations and vices, I’ll keep the virtues during Holy Week.
This year will be no different. I will be spending it with the simple joy of seeing EDSA – because one never truly sees the highway on regular days. I will become a tourist in my own city, in the hope of discovering something new, or recognizing a familiar I must have forgotten. Maybe there is a corner of Manila which has yet to speak its definites, or a space full of stories waiting for a listener. Maybe there is an idea which begs to be indulged in the temporary breathing rooms. This year I will once again engage myself with religious traditions, regardless of the skepticism of media, or the self-righteous and self-serving nihilism of the relativists. And while most would fault me as being a brainwashed fool for doing so, I have always regarded religion as poetry, an art form, an expression that requires one to lose his obsession for control, and yes, be controlled.
Because at the surface of this liturgical glum, to lose control is one of the lessons, isn’t it? Perhaps to not mind the inconveniences, the sufferings, the tropical discomforts. Perhaps to dislocate oneself from the crowd, the routine, the expected, and to detach oneself from the restlessness brought by a need to control everything, and let things happen on its own. All these anxieties come from crowdedness of Manila, an city man’s pretensions. Strip the city away of the traffic, the people, the noise, and you find yourself taken into it, not so much unlike religion.
Maybe Manila is a religion after all, and the reason why I prefer to stay here is that it becomes its holiest during this week, when thousands of years ago some strange man felt we were worth dying for, and perhaps divided history, and since then left us with more questions than answers, but miracles and sensations too which illuminate those whose hearts are open, whose minds probe beyond the scientific. Maybe Manila is the saviour too, impermeable, misunderstood, hated but secretly loved with messages of our salvation ready to be decoded and understood but only if you could resist the urge to always be in the company of the passing things of this world.