Into the light of Easter
As is the tradition in Roman Catholic Philippines, during Holy Week all religious statues and images inside churches are draped in purple cloth. This is to symbolize the mourning that is felt by humanity at the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.
This is why the Easter celebration that marks the end of the mournful, dolorous week in which Catholics observe the passion and death of Christ is such a joyful occasion. For on this day, Filipino Catholics mark not just the close of Holy Week, but also the beginning of a new liturgical season that is filled with light and promise.
Early on Easter Sunday, statues of the Redeemer and of the Virgin Mary are paraded around town, followed by devotees divided by gender: The men follow the statue of Jesus, while the women troop behind the Virgin’s. When the two groups meet in what has been called the “salubong” or rendezvous, a young girl dressed as an angel is lowered by a pulley before the Virgin Mary’s image. The “angel” then lifts off the cloth covering the statue, as the choir and crowd burst out into chants of “Alleluia!”
But this year, as it was last year, even the gleeful Easter celebration is muted, the palpable joy of a people basking in the fulfillment of the promise of the Resurrection reduced to quiet reflection and silent meditation. This is Holy Week and Easter under the shroud and shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is indeed plenty of reasons for fear and apprehension, sadness and grief. In just the last few days, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the country has been exceeding 10,000 a day, a figure once unimaginable and inconceivable. Deaths have breached 13,000, with the total number of cases tracked at 747,288 (as of March 31, 2021).
The Philippines has in fact achieved the dubious honor (horror?) of recording the highest totals of cases and deaths in the entire Western Pacific region, while poorer and less developed countries continue to achieve far better results with their efforts to prevent infections and trace, treat, and now vaccinate their populations.
What is the meaning of Easter for Filipinos still hiding behind the shroud of a public health crisis that has brought illness and death, hunger and joblessness, hopelessness and despair?
Some answers to ponder: Early on in the pandemic last year, even as government was still locked in denial and dithering over the proper responses to a public health emergency, private citizens plunged headlong into measures to mitigate people’s suffering. Big corporations stepped up with timely funding to support their employees as well as meet the basic needs of health frontliners, such as personal protective equipment and medical supplies. This soon extended to providing meals for the poorest families, as well as public transport not just for frontliners but also for essential workers.
The private business sector was soon joined by civic groups and organizations, reaching out to communities to adopt income-generating projects, and connecting with farmers and rural cooperatives to bridge the gap between food producers and consumers. Even entertainment industry professionals, among the most gravely affected of sectors, got together for a series of online shows, with urban and rural poor communities as beneficiaries.
In the public sector, the Office of the Vice President pioneered such measures as providing transportation for frontliners, distributing PPE to health workers in remote areas, and facilitating donations of food and even educational materials like laptops to impoverished students who otherwise would have been left out of the “blended learning” modes of instruction. Lately, in response to the rising wave of new cases, Vice President Leni Robredo has spearheaded the fielding of converted buses to facilitate COVID-19 testing of folks in vulnerable areas.
The arrival of much-needed vaccines holds up much hope in the dark and gloomy landscape and in the mindscape of anxious citizens. But even amid the hoopla that accompanied the first shipments, apprehensions are still felt given the slow pace and limited reach of the available doses. Even here, the private sector, as well as proactive local governments, are stepping in to bring the vaccines’ promise to fruition.
As we step out of the shadows of Holy Week, there is a glimmer of hope amid the dawning of a more hopeful national scenario, occasioning the fervent prayer that the government would finally get its act together and begin the hard, undeferrable work of healing the land. The promise of Easter morning should lift us up — that the will and optimism of a people who will not surrender to helplessness and incompetence will ultimately lead this country into the light.
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