I2M 2019: Malate parish and Holy Week (Part 1)

Stephen Awre, our Mission Office Administrator and member of the Invitation to Mission group who visited the Philippines at Easter, recounts an unforgettable experience of Holy Week in Malate parish, where the Columbans have served since 1929.

Malate parish has been a revelation. I had always known about the Columban presence in Malate parish. It was the first parish assigned to the Columbans in the year they were invited to the Philippines and in 2019 they celebrate 90 years of mission in the country. However, it was something else to be here and it was a privilege to share Holy Week and Easter with the parish community.

We were taken straight to the parish from the airport and greeted off the bus by Fr. Leo Distor (parish priest), Fr. Rex Rocamora and Fr. Chris Kaamiño, three of the five Columbans assigned to the parish. Later, on Holy Saturday, we would discover how, working as a team, they have been successful at bringing people and communities together in the parish and how widely lay people are involved in all aspects of parish ministry.

As we passed by on that first evening, we caught a glimpse of a beautifully adorned choir and we had the privilege of hearing them the following day. Holy Thursday afternoon found us seated in the front pew ready for a performance of ‘A Passion for our World’ by Michael Forster and Kevin Mayhew, performed by Malate parish choir. Their heavenly voices were a joy to hear as they related the story of Jesus’ Passion, allowing plenty of time to rejoice in the Resurrection.

The Mass for the Last Supper followed and a rhythmical liturgy unfurled. After this, we met the families who would host us over the next two nights before we returned to the Columban House at Singalong (the Columban House) to meet and get to know some of the Columbans.

Good Friday began early, the walk of Jesus to the cross remembered at dawn; each station held at the house of one of the parishioners, a small table with a white cloth, a picture of the station and a cross with a purple ribbon providing the focus as we prayed. The cross from each house was taken to the next, so that by the end we had fourteen crosses before the statue of La Pieta, erected to the memory of the 100,000 people who died, among them five Columban priests from Malate parish, in the battle for Manila between the USA and Japan in 1945.

Hospitable to the end, our host families than took charge of us and we found our way to their homes amid the narrow alleyways we had passed through earlier for the Via Crucis. My host was Ramon and his family of two sons, two daughters and two brothers. The pride in their small home was evident as soon as I walked in. So much less space than I am used to, but all the essential elements of family life were there, except perhaps for enough bed space (Ramon’s brothers, Roland and Ariel, slept on the wooden benches downstairs and I am still not sure where Ramon himself slept). I was privileged to occupy one of the two bedrooms and it became a cool haven for me to rest and reflect in between the Holy Week services.

These continued at 1.30pm with a ‘liturgy’ we had not come across before. The Seven Last Words was a humbling experience. Seven people giving testimony to how God’s grace had revealed itself to them. One had emerged unscathed from a car accident, another had learnt of how much his mother loves him through a dream, another spoke of her broken marriage and battle with cancer. Tears flowed. It was all in Tagalog, so I was grateful to the chair of the Parish Council behind me, who provided me with a brief translation of each testimony on her phone. Their courage was admirable and I can imagine that many others will have benefited from their sharing.

Noticeable in all of the liturgies was the participation of lay people as readers, servers, singers and dancers, playing their part with such grace and clarity. So how would the parish celebrate the Easter Vigil?

Read part 2 of this reflection