Marathon singing, vigils and pre-dawn processions as Filipinos celebrate Holy Week

Marathon singing, vigils and pre-dawn processions as Filipinos celebrate Holy Week
Actors dressed as women of Jerusalem and Roman soldiers walk along a street during the reenactment of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus in a street play during Holy Week in Manila ahead of Easter. (AFP)
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Updated 29 March 2024
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Marathon singing, vigils and pre-dawn processions as Filipinos celebrate Holy Week

Marathon singing, vigils and pre-dawn processions as Filipinos celebrate Holy Week
  • Bulk of religious traditions begin on Holy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus
  • Many traditions are a blend of folk customs and Spanish colonial influences

MANILA: As Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week, Filipinos are observing their unique traditions, which will culminate on Sunday with Easter — the joyous commemoration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

In the largest Christian-majority nation in Asia, where over 85 million people identify as Catholic, folk traditions have blended with more than 300 years of Spanish colonial influences, leading to unique expressions and observances of faith.

One of the most enduring yet extreme examples is senakulo, a street drama that depicts Jesus’ passion and death, where men flagellate and, in some cases, nail themselves to the cross as an act of penance.

But not all Filipino Catholics adhere to these practices, instead engaging in other traditions.

They began the observance of Holy Week with Palm Sunday last week, when churchgoers brought palm branches to be blessed by priests.

The palm branch symbolizes victory, peace and eternal life and once they receive blessing, Filipinos put them up at home either as decor or by windows or doorways to ward off bad spirits.

They represent the branches that according to the Gospel crowds laid down as Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before his crucifixion.

“The Holy Week allows me to impart the importance of this occasion to my children, now that they’re a little bit older,” said Edgie Ruiz for whom the annual holiday is an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones.

“This is also the time when our relatives who live far away come to spend time with us, which is something I always look forward to.”

The bulk of religious traditions begin on Holy Thursday, the day during Holy Week that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus. It is observed with a custom during which the priest washes the feet of 12 people — imitating the humility of Jesus, who washed the feet of his apostles on the night before his crucifixion.

Ruiz was one of those chosen to take part in the ritual at his local parish in Hermosa, Bataan province.

“My grandfather used to participate in this tradition as one of the chosen ‘apostles,’” he said. “The priest chooses common, everyday people to take part.”

Another tradition on Holy Thursday is the Visita Iglesia — visiting at least seven different churches to pray.

Gerald Gloton, who resides in Pampanga province 83 km north of Manila, has been practicing the Visita Iglesia tradition since childhood.

“The Visita Iglesia is very important for me because it unites our family. We visit various churches that depict the importance of faith, heritage, and culture,” he said.

Pampanga is known for its strong Catholic traditions, including several historical churches dating back to the Spanish colonial period — another aspect that Gloton looks forward to in this annual ritual.

“Aside from the spiritual reflection and family bonding, I also look forward to the intricate details and architecture of our churches which are regarded as structural treasures,” he said.

Another centuries-old tradition that continues to be practiced is the pabasa — a marathon reading of the passion of Christ, sung by volunteers, usually women, in their parishes. In urban places like Manila, the pabasa can run for more than a day, but in rural areas and places with intact traditions like Pampanga, it can go on for nearly a week.

While some Filipino communities have adopted Western practices such as hunting Easter eggs on Sunday morning, one of the most anticipated rituals is the salubong, or welcoming, a pre-dawn Easter ritual in which a solemn procession of the images of the mourning Virgin Mary and a risen Christ meet from opposite ends in front of a church.

A chorus of children, sometimes singing from hanging platforms to give the illusion of flying in mid-air, sing to herald the occasion. A child is assigned to lift the black veil off Virgin Mary, signifying the end of her mourning.

For Crystal Arcega from Batangas, south of Manila, the ritual’s atmosphere is the most joyous of all.

“It’s when the baby angels throw confetti and wave their wands, and the choir sings. That’s when the Easter Mass starts, and the church lights are turned on,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful moment and worth waking up early for.”

After Easter Mass, Filipino families will gather over celebratory meals and delicacies.

The rice cakes sold in front of churches, such as the suman and tamales — delicacies wrapped in banana leaves — are a must-have after the mass.

At home, they are followed by fried chicken, braised meat dishes in a tangy-sweet sauce, and kare-kare — a rich oxtail peanut stew.

The most sacred period in the liturgical year in Christianity, which is filled with mourning, prayers and fasting to culminate in togetherness and feast, is for many a time that strengthens their faith.

For Arcega, it is a “way to remind us how much sacrifice Jesus has made, and how despite being in the form of man, is able to show us God’s unconditional love,” she said.

“It really becomes the time for me to reflect and be thankful.”


At least eight die in inferno near Moscow, TASS says

Smoke billows from a burning administrative building in Fryazino in the Moscow Region, Russia June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke billows from a burning administrative building in Fryazino in the Moscow Region, Russia June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
Updated 55 min 14 sec ago
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At least eight die in inferno near Moscow, TASS says

Smoke billows from a burning administrative building in Fryazino in the Moscow Region, Russia June 24, 2024. (Reuters)
  • Black smoke billowed from the building outside Moscow and flames roared up its walls
  • Some people were trapped on the top floors but were unable to escape

MOSCOW: Two people jumped to their death from the top floors of a burning eight-story former Russian electronics research institute on Monday and at least six others died in the fire, state-run TASS news agency reported.
Black smoke billowed from the building outside Moscow and flames roared up its walls. Some people were trapped on the top floors but were unable to escape.
One man was shown jumping from the upper floor of the building by the Baza Telegram channel. Another, with serious burns, fell from the upper floors, footage published by Shot Telegram channel showed.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire.


Malaysia arrests eight over alleged Daesh links: minister

Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
Updated 24 June 2024
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Malaysia arrests eight over alleged Daesh links: minister

Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to Daesh. (File/AFP)
  • The suspects were rounded up over the weekend in various parts of the Muslim-majority country
  • The six men and two women were from diverse backgrounds, including unemployed and educated professionals

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s home minister on Monday said police detained eight people with suspected links to the Daesh group who were purportedly planning attacks against the king and the premier.
The suspects were rounded up over the weekend in various parts of the Muslim-majority country, minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said in a statement.
He said an initial investigation by the police “has also found that there are threats against His Majesty the (king), the prime minister, prominent figures and top leadership of the Malaysian police force.”
The six men and two women were from diverse backgrounds, including unemployed and educated professionals, added the minister.
In March, a machete-wielding attacker suspected of ties to an Al-Qaeda linked group stormed a police station in the state of Johor and killed two officers.
The attacker, who police said had links to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), had slashed one officer before grabbing a gun and shooting another.
JI has been blamed for a series of deadly bomb attacks in the region including the 2002 bombings in the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Police inspector-general Razarudin Husain in March said that Malaysia would be scaling up security.


Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win

Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win
Updated 24 June 2024
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Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win

Afghan fans aglow after historic Australia T20 World Cup win
  • Afghanistan seized on a poor Australian field performance to post 148-6 in their innings before bowling 2021 champions out for 127 
  • Cricket Australia has withdrawn from bilateral series because of “deterioration in human rights” for women in Afghanistan

KABUL: Beleaguered Afghans were riding high Monday after a historic weekend T20 World Cup victory over Australia spread a rare mood of euphoria across the country.
“With every ball, every run, every boundary, every wicket, I wasn’t able to hold my emotions,” said university student Zamir Afghan in the capital Kabul.
“It was very early morning, but I was jumping, screaming, I was not able to contain myself,” the 20-year-old told AFP. “I couldn’t stop my tears.”
Afghanistan seized on a poor Australian field performance to post 148-6 in their innings before bowling the 2021 champions out for 127 — their first ever win over Australia.
“Afghanistan as a nation has suffered a lot, such moments are rare for us,” said Afghan.
Whilst cricket is hugely popular in Afghanistan, the match over 11,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) away in Arnos Vale on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, took place around dawn local time.
Though the last ball was bowled around 8:30 am (0400 GMT) on Sunday, many diehard fans had been awake to witness the win.
In eastern Khost city, around 1,000 raucous cricket fans gathered to bask in the glow of fireworks early on Sunday morning in half an hour of revelry swiftly broken up by Taliban security forces.
An uncowed smaller crowd came together again at night, clapping as they lit off more pyrotechnics.
Since the Taliban took over in August 2021 and introduced an austere vision of Islam, scenes of public jubilation have been rare.
“Such moments are special for everyone,” said 18-year-old fruit shop worker Saddam Saleh. “Beating the mighty Australia is not something small.”
The result bolsters Afghanistan’s chances of reaching the semifinals in the competition co-hosted by the USA and West Indies, though they must first face Bangladesh on Tuesday.
“In sports there are always ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, but there is a very good chance for Afghanistan to qualify,” said 28-year-old Usman Ahmadzai.
“They even have the potential to be in the final and be champions — we couldn’t wish for more.”
Afghanistan has been isolated since the withdrawal of foreign forces and the collapse of the US-backed government, with diplomats wary of engaging with Taliban rulers.
The isolation has spilled into the world of sport. Cricket Australia has withdrawn from bilateral series because of the “deterioration in human rights” for women and girls in Afghanistan.
“The Afghanistan national team responded to their disrespect on the pitch,” said 32-year-old Shahid, who goes by only one name.
“No one should ever underestimate the greatness of Afghanistan.”


Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat

Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat
Updated 24 June 2024
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Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat

Delhi minister stages hunger strike for more water to city amid extreme heat
  • Millions of Indians face water shortages every summer when water demand rises in farms, offices and homes against a limited supply
  • A prolonged heatwave this year has worsened the shortfall, including in Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru

NEW DELHI: A Delhi city minister has started an indefinite hunger strike to demand more drinking water for India’s capital, where taps in some of its poorest neighborhoods are running nearly dry in the middle of searing heat.
“There are 2.8 million people in the city who are aching for just a drop of water,” Delhi Water Minister Atishi said on Monday, the fourth day of her fast.
Millions of Indians face water shortages every summer when water demand rises in farms, offices and homes against a limited supply, but a prolonged heatwave this year has worsened the shortfall, including in Delhi and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru.
Delhi relies on the Yamuna River that runs through the capital for most of its water needs but the river slows down during dry summer months, causing shortages that lead to protests and calls for better water conservation.
Atishi blamed the neighboring farming state of Haryana for guzzling up a large share of river water.
Haryana’s government responded that it was Delhi’s mismanagement that was causing water shortages. Experts said a federal-level review of decades-old water sharing pacts was needed to accommodate population growth.
Delhi, a city of 20 million people, is one of the world’s most densely populated capitals, where upscale neighborhoods and manicured lawns are just a few miles away from unplanned working-class areas and slums.
But, in contrast to growing unplanned development over the years, the city’s water allocation from rivers has remained unchanged since 1994, said Depinder Kapur, the director of water program at think tank Center for Science and Environment.
“What was true 10-15 years ago is not true anymore. So, there is a situation of crisis and it’s a distribution issue,” he said.
The Delhi government is working on plans to improve the groundwater table by reviving lakes and storing water overflow from the Yamuna during the seasonal monsoon rains, but officials say the summer shortfall is difficult to tackle by these measures alone.
“Water crisis in Delhi is a year-long crisis because extreme temperatures are not going anywhere,” said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha. “Delhi needs a comprehensive water management plan in which Yamuna can’t be the only major source of water.”


UK PM Sunak says he will act on gambling investigation findings

Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
Updated 24 June 2024
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UK PM Sunak says he will act on gambling investigation findings

Britain’s Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak speaks during general election campaign event.
  • Sunak’s campaign has failed to take off amid a series of mis-steps, including his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early

EDINBURGH: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he would act on any findings of wrongdoing from an internal investigation into a damaging betting scandal that could punish him further at a July 4 election he is expected to lose.
His Conservative Party trails the opposition Labour Party by around 20 points in UK polls and Sunak’s campaign has failed to take off amid a series of mis-steps, including his decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.
The campaign has been further damaged by revelations that several party officials and candidates are being investigated for allegedly betting on the date of the election before it was announced.
Sunak has said he was “incredibly angry” to hear of the allegations, which are being investigated by the Gambling Commission, and told reporters he was not aware of any other candidates being investigated.
“We have been in parallel conducting our own internal inquiries, and will of course act on any relevant findings or information,” Sunak told broadcasters after a campaign event in Edinburgh.
Labour leader Keir Starmer criticized Sunak’s handling of events, saying it showed weakness.
“Rishi Sunak needs to show some leadership,” he told reporters. “If these were my candidates... they’d be gone.”
Independence on the backburner
In Scotland, Labour hope to capitalize on the struggles of both the Conservatives and the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), who are on their third leader in little over a year.
The SNP have dominated the Westminster parliament’s Scottish seats since 2015, garnering support of pro-independence voters in the wake of a 2014 referendum where Scots voted to remain part of the United Kingdom by 55 percent to 45 percent.
But a police probe into the SNP’s finances, Nicola Sturgeon’s sudden resignation as leader last year and the implosion of her successor Humza Yousaf’s administration in the devolved Scottish government this year have put that dominance in question.
Labour has also regained momentum in its former Scottish heartlands and polls show it level with or even ahead of the SNP for the first time in a decade.
The SNP manifesto says that if it wins a majority of Scottish seats, it will begin negotiations on independence, though both Sunak and Starmer have ruled out such talks.
At the launch of the Scottish Conservative manifesto, Sunak aimed his speech almost entirely at the SNP and their attempts to pursue a second independence vote.
The Conservatives are trying to hang on to their six Scottish seats, where the SNP are their main rivals.
“The fourth of July is Scotland’s chance... to put independence on the backburner for a generation,” Sunak said.
“But that can only happen if the SNP are routed. If they do not just lose some seats, but the SNP lose big.”
He also criticized the SNP and Labour’s approach to the energy sector, saying the Conservatives were the only way to protect North Sea oil.
The Conservatives lag behind in third place in Scotland, and could be on course for a historic defeat across the UK as a whole. Research by Ipsos Scotland found Sunak has a net negative approval rating of -64 points.
“We see Westminster politicians take campaign trips north of the border to dismiss the very idea that Scotland can have real, genuine influence at Westminster,” SNP leader John Swinney said in extracts of a speech he is due to give on Monday.
“Scotland’s voice is still ignored and our democratic choices are still disrespected.”