Early Palm Sunday morning, to mark the beginning of the Holy Week, we found ourselves amongst the throng of parishioners of Sto. Domingo Church in the rustic, quiet town of Calatagan in Batangas.
Sto. Domingo Church, that is coincidentally both the gateway and center of Calatagan town, was filled with people bearing palm branches to be blessed.
Children in their Sunday best, and vendors peddling neon-colored chicks, balloons, and all sorts of sundries mingled with the parishioners. For Palm Sunday, the entire town must have come to mass that early morning, filling every space of the courtyard in front of the church.
To many city slickers, the unhurried pace of weekend mornings in the province is often unsettling. In fact, when we had previously asked the schedule for the Sunday masses, the old women quipped that masses were from anytime between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Hence, that Sunday morning, we finally grasped why the ceremony that was initially at 6 a.m. was still halfway through by 7 a.m. In fact, people seemed to be coming into Mass as they pleased.
That Palm Sunday morning, children clung to their mother’s skirts, while munching on boiled peanuts and playing with their neon-colored chicks. So far from the way city children lug their digital gadgets with them in malls and cafes, the youngsters in Calatagan seem grateful for modest things.
Ironically, the scene was a stark reminder for me that maybe one can survive on simple needs, and to learn to only need basic essentials. Although life in this fishing village may be quite hard, people sincerely seem happier. It was even with guilt pangs that I began to reflect on how many people can live on less than what some city folks would spend on one dinner.
Then again, it is in country surroundings like these that one sees how religiosity is a way of life. The Mass itself is a community activity, people gathering earnestly in prayer and faith, led by a Parish priest who serves as mentor, counselor, and community chief for the most part. As we heard the priest preach his homily, we were charmed at how catechism relates to everyday life, with the priest amusedly reminding people about loving their spouses and avoiding gossips about their neighbors.
In this provincial life, people are confronted with the evils of gossip—of neighbors prying into other people’s lives. In contrast, gossip among city folks has been relegated to social media. After all, it was a sincere reminder to us all that faith may simply mean accepting their neigh–bor’s faults and their daily struggles.
Every so often, the sense of peace that being in small provincial towns is consoling and a much-needed breather. Sometimes, I do often wonder why people strive for the trappings of a modern life, with its complicated needs and wants. In a place where evenings are lit by stars, and one is woken still by roosters crowing in the early morning, I felt truly fortunate to have been where I was that Palm Sunday.
Perhaps too, it was the perfect way to begin last week’s commemoration of the Holy Week—and for the solemn reflection that was to follow the days after.