I shot these during Holy Week 2010 in my travels to some small provinces here in the Philippines. They include what I experienced walking in a three-day procession in the province of Marikina (the shoe capital of the Philippines) and attending a Maundy Thursday flagellation in Navotas, where locals line up for days to touch a statue of the dead Christ, believed to have healing powers.
With most of the country being strict Roman Catholics, everything shuts down during Holy Week. Grocery stores, malls, even most radio stations go silent. While the less religious fly off to nearby island resort Boracay for the week, the traditionalists walk with their families in local processions.
About 56 families in Marikina walk the route with their carozza’s (floats bearing religious statues) that are usually passed from generation to generation. I had the pleasure of walking with my partner’s family who care for the statue of Maria Salome, an heirloom they keep on display year round and bring out for the annual Holy Wednesday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday processions that begin and end at the church. This is where the ringing bell-tower announces each procession, with the earliest starting at 3am – a tough one to wake up for, but worth it every step of the way.
The flagellants (uber-religious devotees) walk the streets of Navotas shirtless and whip themselves with devices similar to those in biblical times. Most cover their face and endure small incisions to their back to prepare. As they walk, they beat their body with the wooden rods tied to rope until their small cuts rip open and begin to bleed, sometimes profusely.
A bucket of vinegar is kept nearby for onlookers to splash on their open wounds. This drives intense pain and it’s believed – shows a deeper measure of faith. Some devotees even lay face down in the dirt for people (kids included) to pull at their cuts and hit them with sticks. A nearby (and extremely polluted) river is where they go to wash their wounds each night. Within a day or so, it’s said all the cuts are gone – infection free. It was a surreal mixture of gore and God I won’t soon forget.
Those streets are about a million miles away from my hometown of NYC so I found myself continuously in awe of everyone and everything around me. This was my third Holy Week here and once again I felt the tremendous warmth of the Filipino people and experienced first-hand the unifying strength of faith within their culture.