The Via Dolorosa or Stations of the Cross—the way of the suffering—recalled the fourteen events before Jesus Christ was crucified. Catholics all over the world continue until today to commemorate it. They follow the way Jesus took, if not in the actual road, at least in their own enclaves.
No country celebrates the Holy Week, particularly the Via Dolorosa which falls on Good Friday, with much fanfare, festivity, exuberance, pomp, and energy than the Philippines. Each city or province has its own way of commemorating it, and each seems unabashed in declaring that under its aegis the faith lives on, even if what’s on display is far from what the occasion truly means, and its religious significance is lost on the religious themselves.
In Davao City, there is a Shrine where Davaeños conduct their own version of Via Dolorosa. It’s officially named as Shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague. But Davaoeños refer to it only as the Shrine. And when they speak of Shrine, they only think of one Shrine—although there are other Shrines like the Sta. Ana Shrine or St. Mary Shrine—and it is this Shrine on the hills of Matina.
I joined my mother and my sister on Good Friday last year for the Via Dolorosa. “When we make the Stations of the Cross,” says the little prayer book I always bring along, “we think of the sufferings of Jesus for love of us. We accompany him from Jerusalem to Calvary. Let us make the Stations of the Cross with devotion. Let us think of Jesus and how he loves us.”
I wonder, however, if those who troop, trek, traipse, and trudge the steep road to the shrine thought of the sufferings of Jesus. Or did they only think of their own and how inconvenient it was to perform their religious obligation? Did they make it with devotion?
There are in the Philippines only two occasions that could keep PUJs and AUVs off the road: Pacquiao fight and Holy Week. That particular Good Friday was no exception. Only a few jeepneys were out on the streets. The multicab we were riding on breezed through the typically heavy-traffic streets of Matina.
We stopped in front of Matina Galleria. Because it’s Holy Week, the sabungan was empty. More crowded was the other side of the road, the road which led up to the Shrine. As we hopped off the multicab, a thin and small man wearing a bull cap approached us, thrusting the candles he’s selling.
“Kandila Ma’am,” the man said. “Baynti katorse lang Ma’am. Ihapa. Katorse jud na.”
“Lanay naman,” Mama complained.
“Sa init na Ma’am. Init man gud kayo.”
Mama took out a twenty peso bill and paid the man. We started walking toward the first station. We got past a group of tricycle drivers who dissuaded us from hiking and talked us into taking a tricycle instead. But we refused. Isn’t to share in the sufferings of Jesus the whole point of the Stations of the Cross?
At the first station, many were already gathered in front of the station which depicted The Last Supper. I lighted my candle and tried to concentrate, but I couldn’t help noticing the gay beside me. His appearance didn’t inspire a comment or two, except that his heavy make-up, sleeveless shirt, blonde hair, and high heels didn’t escape my attention. The gay prayed so fast he needed to cajole his friends, “Bayot pagdali kay init kaayo.” Halfway through my prayer, the gay and his friends left.
Transferring from one station to another was like walking in Bankerohan Public Market. One appeared more like a palengkera than a penitent. It’s so hot Rexona would even let you down. The road in between the stations was filled with vendors on both sides. There were peddlers selling sunglasses, mineral water, abanico hats, and doughnuts. There were beggars asking for donations. There were crippled children and men appealing to the benevolent hearts of visitors for a dime that seemed not difficult to be had since it’s Good Friday, and people were expected to be good. Near the seventh station, there’s a child named John Paul. The placard below his wheelchair said he was abandoned by his parents. Yet it’s a wonder how he reached that spot and positioned himself. There were also DVD vendors whose offerings were appropriate for the occasion. They displayed such titles as AbrahamL A Man of Faith, Kristo, The 10 Commandments, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and St. Peter.
We used to go to Shrine on Maundy Thursday because Friday is more crowded. But my sister insisted we go on Friday. After maneuvering through the masses who all seemed to be in a hurry to finish all fourteen stations, after almost being poked with umbrellas, after being knocked and pushed sideways by penitents who didn’t bother to apologize, after walking under the sweltering heat of the sun, we reached the Shrine. We found the place just as unfortunately as we expected it to be: crowded and noisy, not a very good place to reflect.
People were camping under the shade of the trees while children were running here and there. Families were having picnics on the sprawling ground. There were lovers who coddle each other despite the reminders staked on the ground saying THIS IS A PLACE FOR MEDITATION. DATING IS PROHIBITED.
We went inside the Shrine. We found a vacant spot and soon joined the many and spread the malong Mama brought. In front of us were a young woman and her tomboy lover. Behind us was a mani vendor who’s outsmarting the guard who tried to drive him away.
We had not been to the Shrine last week, but I’m pretty sure the same spectacle presented itself at the Shrine.