For many, Holy Week is for vacations, or for quiet time in a city devoid of people and traffic. Many others go to their hometown or their home province to be with family. For us, Holy Week was always about Castillejos, our hometown in Zambales.
I had always known that Mommy’s family was in possession of a Santo Entierro, the figure of the dead Christ. Everyone called him the Señor. Most of the year, the Señor was encased in glass, in the family chapel in Castillejos. On Good Friday, the carriage was decorated with flowers. The menfolk changed the Señor’s garments and carried the figure from the chapel to the carriage. Then twelve parishioners, dressed as the twelve apostles, came to the house to escort the Señor to the parish church, where the rest of the figures and their families waited. It was a funeral procession, and the Señor was at the center of it all.
The relatives would argue if you ask about the Señor’s origins. My brother says he heard that the Señor was found floating down a nearby river, and our ancestors took the figure from the water. The story I heard was that one of our forefathers had the figure made in Spain in 1870, and it took some years before the Señor arrived in the Philippines. Mommy’s brother, Tito Chito, said he saw a document in Lolo’s things, perhaps a receipt or a purchase order, dated 1870. I’m sure other relatives would recall different details.
Mommy told me stories of Good Fridays from her childhood. Elderly relatives would shush them if they played too noisily. The clothes that would be worn for the procession were selected carefully, because it was in poor taste to wear bright colors. Everyone had to be bathed before 3:00.
There were so many relatives on my mother’s side that they didn’t fit in the house. Some of the menfolk had to sleep in the chapel, just a few feet from the Señor. They often joked that the Señor would get up at night, would pull at their toes or their blankets.
Many Castillejos folk pledged service to the Señor, such as the twelve apostles. Someone said their fathers were apostles before them, and when their fathers passed on, they took up the mantle.
One of the Señor’s most loyal servants was a man named Fred. He knew every detail of the procession preparations, was well-acquainted with the family, and was respected in the community. When he gave orders, people followed. Someone said he had made a promise to the Señor. His daughter was sick, and he pledged to serve for seven years, if only his daughter would be healed. As part of the promise, he didn’t cut his hair until the seven years were up.
I don’t know what illness his daughter had, but she got better. I know, because I met her, and she came to the house on Good Friday, and she walked in the procession too. And Fred was able to cut his hair. Fred died a few years ago, but his family still serves the Señor.
Another constant was a man they called Tisoy. We were never sure if he was a farmer or a businessman. Someone said he had killed his brother. He’s friendly to everyone, but I steer clear of him just the same.
Perhaps the Señor knew everyone’s secrets. My uncles said that sometimes, when the moment came to carry the Señor from the chapel to the carriage, the figure wouldn’t budge. The men of my family tend to be rather large, and one of them could easily carry the Señor by himself. But sometimes, even with three or four of them, the Señor refused to be carried. The figure seemed heavier. They said maybe one of them had sinned, and so they would call a different group of menfolk to lift the Señor.
Mommy said the procession used to take so long: four hours, sometimes even six. The roads were unpaved, and they had to pass through three or so barangays. The children and the elderly among the relatives would only walk from the house to the church, and accompany the Señor until the procession passed by the house. They would return to the house for dinner, while those who were able would complete the procession. For some, it was a point of pride to count the years that they had walked the entire procession. For the children, it was a mark of maturity, that they were old enough and strong enough to finish the whole thing. For the elderly, it was a sign of age when they could no longer walk through all the barangays.
One year, without warning, torrents of rain fell soon after the procession started. We had just walked down the highway from the church, and were about to enter the first barangay. Then the water came pouring down, and everyone was stunned. The parish priest didn’t know what to do. Finally Tito Manny told the parish priest to decide: keep going, or stop the procession now. The rain showed no signs of letting up, so continuing the procession was not an option. But someone said it was bad luck to turn the procession around. Tito Manny suggested we just circle the first block to return to the highway, and the various families could bring their carriages and figures back to their respective homes.
It was still raining when we parked the Señor’s carriage beside the chapel. In the deluge, my brother and the other menfolk had to get up on benches and stepladders to remove the trimmings from the carriage, and carry the Señor back to the enclosure inside the chapel. Only then could they park the carriage back in its garage. Everyone wondered what sins we had committed, that the heavens did not see fit to let the procession take place. Dinner that night was quiet, subdued.
It’s been years since that rainy procession, and each year brings new mishaps and stories that will probably become tall tales over time. Each year fewer relatives go to Castillejos for Good Friday; some have migrated to other countries, while others have work that keep them from joining us. I don’t know how much longer we can keep the tradition going, but perhaps, even if we stop going to Castillejos, we can keep telling stories of the Señor.