This was first posted on https://maptia.com/joelmataro/stories/kiss-of-the-whip
29 March 2015, Palm Sunday, Quiapo Church, Manila -Starting with morning waving of the palms, today begins a week-long array of a highly visual observance of the Lenten Season. Among the visual pageantry is the color of blood red attained by self-flagellation- an old Lenten ritual, dating back to Spanish times, that the Catholic Church itself warns its believers. Do these extreme form of sacrifice, makes us become better Christians? Is it a form of worship without correct foundation? Is it all for the show?
In Quiapo that Palm Sunday morning, as the usual Quiapo church-goers come with their palaspas, a group of Flagellants calling themselves Spartans performs an old ritual locally called penitensya. Donned with a covered-face plus a matching crown of thorns, long-sleeved black shirt design with a special open cut at the back, they carry split-bamboo sticks that serves as their whip.
This group from Tondo first gather themselves together in a quiet place before they start the ritual in public. Then one after another the Berdugo’s segunda, or executioner’s help starts to slipper-slap the penitent’s back to numb; a preparation for the kiss of the whip.
As if the sound of a number of bamboo sticks whacking a person’s back is not enough to pay for one’s sins, the Berdugo, pricks the flagellant’s whacked skin with pointed steel pins for the blood to come out. What is not coming out is the cry of pain. What happens next is the insatiable thirst for kiss of the whip.
Bamboo sticks cracking, blood oozing everywhere, even tainting the watching crowd red. It could be a hundred times of whip, the self-flagellants would not stop until their own guards would tell them so, but by then would be commanded to lie to the ground, face down emulating the gesture of the cross. There would be no rest, only more beating by the guards and the Berdugo’s assistant.
The signal to stand-up is also signal to fall in line and the start of procession, the flagellants would then parade themselves from Plaza Miranda, traversing the market street of Villalobos, right to Palanca and other streets then back to the Church for the ending ritual.
For every street they had been to, they leave a mark of splashed blood on vegetable produce, on dvds for sale, on the wall, on the street itself, everywhere. And yes the watching crowds are there, some are amused, some are just curious.
The Philippine Catholic Clergy itself are warning the faithful of this practice. Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the bishops’ conference stated last year regarding self-flagellation: “If what you do makes you love others more, then it is pleasing to God. But if you do it for photographs, for you to be famous, then that becomes spiritual vanity,”
In a quick interview of the founder-leader of the flagellants in Quiapo, “Vic” he said they are doing this for their because of their faith, similar to the sacrifices one makes during the feast of the Nazarene. It is partaking in the sacrifice of Jesus, a “panata”, a sacred vow to the Nazarene, a thanksgiving for the granted prayers and a personal crusade in paying for the committed sins.
Towards the end of Palm Sunday self-flagellation, watching the watching crowds as juxtaposed to bloodied penitent cross-formed laid to the hot concrete ground, perhaps we may never know if the blood they spill had converted at least soul, all we see is a group of men and women doing this because what they believe moves them.