PALO, Leyte—Eighteen-year-old Jay Gatela had to literally climb a mountain, spend a few hours in a cemetery and pay for his own costume to play a minor role in the reenactment of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death.
But Gatela of Barangay (village) Luntad said he joined the play as thanksgiving to God for saving him and his family during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda that devastated this town and the rest of Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8.
“It is all worth it. He helped us survive Yolanda’s wrath,” he said.
Catholics in Eastern Visayas are expected to flock to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration, better known as Palo Cathedral, to watch the reenactment of the Passion and Death of Christ, an annual tradition now in its 40th year.
This year’s reenactment will be more meaningful to the parishioners in the aftermath of Yolanda.
Palo town was one of the areas in Leyte province that were hardest hit by the super typhoon, killing more than 1,200 people and destroying practically all structures in the town.
Even Palo Cathedral, the only cathedral in Eastern Visayas and the seat of the Palo archdiocese, was not spared.
Yolanda’s strong winds ripped the roofs off the rectory and the cathedral. Palo Archbishop John Du’s house was damaged while his private chapel collapsed.
In the case of Gatela, Yolanda claimed the lives of his aunt and two nieces.
But the teenager was grateful because his parents and 10 siblings survived Yolanda.
As thanksgiving, he decided to volunteer in the play and be one of the more than 800 “penitentes (penitents)” in the reenactment.
Before he was admitted, Gatela went to a public cemetery to pray for his family’s dead and trek for almost an hour to the mountains to meditate and pray.
Now that he is part of the play, Gatela has to spend the P600 he earned from a cash-for-work program for his costume—a white robe with hood.
Gatela said he didn’t mind these sacrifices because he wanted to show his gratitude to God.
Penitents all men
All penitentes are played by men who, like all cast members, join the reenactment on the cathedral grounds as a form of offering to the Lord either as thanksgiving or atonement.
They stay on until Black Saturday. Most guard the “body” of Christ in Palo Cathedral until Easter. Some go around the cathedral to ask for donations from pilgrims.
The reenactment, which tells the story of the suffering of Christ, starts at noon of Good Friday and ends at 3 p.m. when Christ is crucified.
But the person playing the role of Jesus will not be nailed to the cross during the climax of the play. Instead, a life-size image of Jesus on the cross will be on display.
The reenactment is followed by the “Siete Palabras” where speakers, mostly priests, interpret the Seven Last Words of Jesus.
Before the reenactment, there will be a Mass at the cathedral in the morning, followed by the Station of the Cross. Confession is then offered to the faithful before the reenactment at noon.
The whole-day activity will be capped by a procession dubbed Santo Entierro, where the “body” of Jesus Christ is marched around the town’s main streets.
Mabel Sevilla, director of the reenactment, said this year’s play was more meaningful for the parishioners because of Yolanda.
“The super typhoon has strengthened our faith and it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is a renewal of faith among those who survived [it],” said Sevilla, a retired social science professor at Leyte Normal University.
Sevilla was in Manila during Yolanda’s onslaught but the roof of her house in Barangay Buri was blown off.
Her father, former Palo Mayor Salvador Moron, was among the pioneers of the reenactment, dubbed “Pamalandong.”
Moron died two years ago after a lingering illness.
Mateo Dacillo, 48, a resident of Barangay Luntad who had been playing the role of a penitent for 18 years, said his faith was tested during Yolanda.
He lost his younger sister, Ma. Perpetua Maxima Abaño, 42, during the typhoon.
His wife, Bibot, and three children survived the onslaught but they lost their house and all their belongings.
“It was a horrendous experience for all of us here. I thought I could not join this year’s reenactment because of Yolanda. But no, the experience only strengthened my faith in Him,” Dacillo said.
“He gave us a second chance to live and that is something for us who survived to be grateful for,” he added.
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