By Randy Bolante

I am not a Protestant, not a Muslim, not Buddhist or Hindu, nor am I a Satan worshipping voodoo practitioner, nor do I took part in some cult mountain pilgrim killing sacrificing chickens to some weird deity. I lived in one of the most catholic country in the world, where everywhere I look there’s Catholic and yet for better or for worse I am not a catholic.

I grew up in a strict Evangelical Protestant family, and was active to the church’s ministries until I went to Colegio de San Juan de Letran, one of the most Catholic institution in the country. How could I? I’m active to a group who wanted to replaced this country to Born Again? My mentor even like to mention it’s a cult. And all my parents and their parents and my uncles were not Catholics, and would happily preach you not be one. It turns out its all about a promise.  A word, once promised to a once rector-priest-far relative of my father many, many years before I was born, who I am more than a 100% sure,  the Holy far relative former rector Father does not remember.

It was hard for me. Theology classes every semester, Catholics everywhere, and rosary every twelve. I might as well be a monk I always said. But then I thank God I become an Atheist.

Sounds, one heck of a brown poopies right?

But it was true. I became, accidentally, drawn to a close circle of diverse backgrounds of friends, and those dudes turns out to be Atheist to the core. They question me every day, make fun of Christianity (as I make fun of their soul going to hell) but then after long struggle, I failed. And pursuant to the phrase, If you can’t beat them join them, I join the club.

A year later, all of them are gone.

It left me alone, and to ponder, am I really an Atheist? No. I just became irreligious. And I feel myself more open now. More open whether you’re a Catholic or not. I no longer feel myself saying, I might as well become a monk.
And I feel myself going back to my very, very Catholic Hometown comfortable.
For me I can sum up Hagonoy in F words. (9gaggers not if you know what I mean stuff): Flood, Fishes, and Flagellations.

There’s certainly flood everyday in some corner of the town. There are lots of fishes (it’s a fishing county, whether in sea, rivers, or like my mom, those who engaged in Palaisdaan or fish pond business.) And there is, in Holy Week a famous march of hundreds of nag-Pipinetensya to different parochial churches, and tens of people wanted crucify themselves (Yes!But not Lethally), to the nearby town of Kapitangan Paombong.

From Monday to Friday, would-be-Christ are often accompanied by Men, women and children who make Alay Lakad.

Alay Lakad is not called out of nothing. It’s not just walking some few kilometers; it’s walking for hours and hours going to and going back. It will literally, make your joints stiff and yet you’re just halfway through (imagine how much more the pain of bearing a cross!)

Before, I would call it a waste of time and energy. People should not suffer more I believe, because Jesus have already suffer in the cross and that our sins would be forgiven through prayer and faith to him, and not trying to re-make what he’d once done.

But that is before. I am for most part, no longer hostile, but more understanding to many religions of the world.

Holy Week comes, and for the first time in my life, I will try to participate in something, if not very Catholic, very traditionalistic. I have decided to go to Kapitangan. A noble step, perhaps, to learn and know the feeling and the reason why people would make a long walks, why People would endure the pain of flagellations, that would rip their backs red among others, and why would some, hitch on modern day crucifixion, and bear that torment.
Or maybe I just join because my friends prick me I cannot endure such a long walk.
Nonetheless, I even invited them to our house as a meeting place, and have a decent dinner first, and let my wild violent dog bite my friend. (oh no I didn’t let, it was just an accident had him in hospital after these.)

The Road to Kapitangan would be long, much long because we started in our barrio, San Isidro, one of the most isolated in town. The first hour is a quiet march. Homes and stores are usually closed at Ten pm. Only the pabasa stations have clear lights, and we have frequent encounters with dogs.
A tambay would challenge us, Suntukan! And I would just say, God bless po sa inyo ngaung Holy Week.With a smile that he might perceive as either “sorry im a coward” or, “what about next time you son of a petite dog.” They’re happy times.

When we’ve come to San Agustin we were joined by out last team mate via rendezvous in Sta Elena. Now we were seven late teens to early twenties, loud gay group. (what I mean in gay is happy, though I must admit, we often used gay speech for sense of humour.Not that one of us aren’t perfectly straight guys.)  

Martin brings a pair of shoes, in which he gave it to my other friend Jomari. Never never wear shoes in Kapitangan. It will be a very long walk. And your feet will get inchy and stiff, your toes will turn red and both your feet and shoes will be very, very smelly. Slippers are much preferred.
And I alone in the group do not have a slipper. I use my brand new shoes my auntie Let gave me from California.
Holy Walker.

During our walks we will see groups of people that are walking towards Kapitangan as well. Many groups in fact. Families, couples, barkada likes us, or even kids. There’s a specific group that we always make sure just near us.
The Seven White Girls.

Yes they were seven, and yes they wore white shirt and they are definitely, white-skinned girls. As if some angels accompany us. Not that we want them to serve as guardians. We prefer them to be sweet hearts of course.
Our moddus operandi includes, “Oh my legs hurts!” and we’ll circle one of our friends pathetically making a scene to help him but actually just an excuse to stop by so they don’t lagged behind us. When a wild dog appears, we would bravely shoo it so they can walk safely unmolested. And sometimes we would have an especially lucky moment when were almost as if one group and one of us, no its me, would say a Hi to them. Just smiles. They were all quiet virgins, wjo doesn’t want to talk to strangers- I thought.
Often we would see stores open, (unusual), and we would stop by buying water, candy, or snacks. But most of them still don’t eat. It is, after all still Lent.

When 1 am looms, we have finished our track in Hagonoy and now in Paombong. A walk of almost an hour, we skirt left to San Isidro Paombong. “It just getting started,” says my friend Toby, and true enough, it took more than an hour. In fact maybe it’s a couple of hour. The nearer we go to Kapitangan the more crowded the streets became, and the more stores we see in the streets. When we reach the barangay proper, we’re almost cramming group by group, until were shoulder to shoulder in anarchic attempt not to lost in the ocean of people.
Every now and then, there’s flagellations, and people holding crosses. There’s also stores right and left all asking people to have a look and buy in their wares. There are restaurants and small burger or fishball shops. As if I’m in Divisoria.

Im constantly worried in my phone and the bag I carried. I know this is a pilgrimage and its full of people wanted to ask God for the forgiveness of their sins, but, people are people, and you might not know what will happened.
Its hot, and all of us are having sweats, but it is not so bad. Especially when we  meet acquitances at the way. And we meet many. Often we exchange only smiles. One of my former teacher scream so loud, they thought there’s an accident. 

At last we came to Kapitangan Church.
Small, Romanasque church.
It is surprisingly very quiet. Full of people, triple than, I think, the Church can carry.

We started by falling into two line of devotees. That line would join when it reached the stoned dais of the church, where there is a table full of idol of Sto Nino. Devotees would in turn lay their handkerchiefs in each of them, sometimes, muttering a silent prayer. After the table, they circle the Holy of Holies, where there’s idols of Jesus in the cross and the virgin Mary.
I just sit on the bench in the left corner of the church, beside a group who, to my demise talk about the food they’re going to eat, while I sit extremely hungry and exhausted. I watched people.
There’s some who used their phones while sitting, some who talk silently, there are plenty who sleep. Or maybe they’re praying. And for people who pray, I see three or four who cried while they’re  closed hands lying on their benches, holding rosaries.

Constant singing (or speaking) of old women is heard all over the horizon.
Four eight weak electric fans covering eight hundred people.
A black Nazarene holding a cross, possibly feeling the tears of a snobbing quite fat woman in her early forties.

After my friends circle the dais, we went outside, where we fall in the zigzag, rope held, line of people to the back of the church. I wonder what is in there.
Whilewe wait, we joke about the seven white girls and where on earth they come from and where they are now. I try to give alms to the poor, but I don’t have money left except my hundred. And I can’t really give that. There’s a child who’s sleeping in a dirty carton. (What a pity!) I try to put a candy in his small black hands, but I found my candy gone.  (oh I give it to my friend awhile ago.)

When we go to the back, we took a couple of pictures while my friends touch the back of the idols they have touched before in the dais.  It took a short time though, and that, they said, is the beginning of the end of our journey.
Someone tried to go to CR, “but it smells like a bulok spaghetti!” says my friend.

We sit for a while in the bench in the far right corner of the church, as we rest while taking pictures, then head off to have a decent meal not far from the church. By that time, 4 am, people were getting fewer. We head off with good silent hearts of a journey for another two hours.

Dawn came, and the light of the sun slowly but surely come to our tiring but laughing faces, as we watched the beauty of the morning Hagonoy lands, until we reached Sta. Ana church of Hagonoy where we took one last picture before we set off.

-Was it good? Was it worth it? From this day, I’m not thinking about whether it is good or not. Good or Evil is out of the question. I believe that anything tht does not hurt any people is not actually evil. And even though these flagellants hurt themselves terribly it is their choice. Whether it is good or evil, I do not care.

They were simple people. Simple people who just wanted to be forgiven, to have some inspiration in the life, that from now on my life is going on the right path. That God would no just spirtiaully but physically teach them that they have wronged, and they this is the time to remember me, and to make a new change.
It took guts to walk that long. Almost eight hours of tiring walk, dogs, mild rain, heat, the crowd, and the deprivation of sleep. It is so exhausting. How much more the flagellants who ripped their back? How much more are the persons who crucify themselves?

And though some say that, the unexplainable hardship that Christ did was enough, theologically, I think we are just people. Psychologically we will always want re assurance. We are reasonable people, who likes to be proud of our intellects, but we, as humans, still cling to the supernatural. That as if there are magic that would save us.

Save us from poverty, save us from sickness, from death, from emotional crisis. Save us from Hell.

And it is I think, what always define us Filipinos.

We would sacrifice everything to achieve our goals. We sacrifice our time and our emotional needs for the expense of job overseas so we can help our families, that they have better future.

Modern day flagellations is just the same. They sacrifice the pain, so that their sins may be forgiven, and that their wish, may be granted.
We all cling to the hope, to the faith, that we Filipinos, poor and undeveloped our country is for now, will have a more promising future.

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