Coronavirus lockdown halts Easter traditions

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2020 01:59 PM | Updated as of Apr 11 2020 06:14 PM

Catholics welcome Easter with the traditional “Salubong," a reenactment of the biblical account of the risen Jesus Christ reuniting with Mother Mary, at the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila last April 2019. Maria Tan, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — (UPDATED) Every Easter Sunday, as early as 3 a.m, Jean Arevalo finds herself up and about at the Saint Joseph Parish in Las Piñas City despite having very little to no sleep. The night before, she participates in the Easter Vigil Mass as part of the choir, and then checks on all the costumes and props that will be used for the performances in the church the next day.

Like most churches in the Philippines, every Easter, the Saint Joseph Parish — renowned for housing the iconic Bamboo Organ — holds the Salubong, a reenactment of the meeting between the resurrected Jesus Christ and His mother, Mary.

But Las Piñas residents also look forward to another Easter tradition that sets a festive mood to the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection: the “Saboy,” where young girls dance in the church compound and around the city’s streets while accompanied by a marching band playing gleeful tunes.

“Pagkatapos noong Salubong, ‘yong buong Saboy. Nagpuprusisyon paikot noong bayan area na tinatawag, nang sumasayaw. Kasi pinapakita nga na nabuhay na si Hesus, pinapamalita sa ibang tao tapos masaya ‘yong tugtog, sayaw sa kalsada,” Arevalo, who oversees the Saboy preparations, said in an interview.

Arevalo joined the “Saboy” dancers when she was 9-years old. She continued to volunteer for the church as she grew up. In 2012, she took over in organizing the annual Easter dance.

“‘Yong mga lola namin sumayaw rin noon at ‘yon pa rin ‘yong steps hanggang ngayon,” said Arevalo, now a 41-year-old dentist and university professor.

Young girls from Las Piñas, mostly children, perform the annual Easter dance “Saboy.” Courtesy of Jean Arevalo and Kris Pantaleon

It came as a heartbreak, however, for Arevalo and the young girls when they learned that there would be no street dancing this year after Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine to curb the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The parish will instead hold a “simplified” Easter celebration with minimal participants to observe physical distancing, which would be streamed on its Facebook page, according to Arevalo.

“Na-sad ako kasi excited talaga ‘yong mga bata saka yearly ‘yan na talaga,” she said.

Easter celebration and other religious rites in Asia’s bastion of Catholicism have been disrupted by the ban on mass gatherings for the duration of the Luzon-wide lockdown, which was supposed to end on April 12 but was extended until April 30.


Fr. Victorino Cueto, rector of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (or Baclaran Church), said they would also forgo “festive” Easter activities this year.

Many of the Easter activities at Baclaran, such as dance performances and Easter egg hunt, were held for children, Cueto said.

“Usually pagkatapos ng children's Mass, a good number, like hundreds of children would be roaming around the church compound area para sa special activity,” he said.

A lone soldier prays in front of a closed Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Maynila on Holy Monday, April 6. Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News

The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo Church) also cancelled its annual Salubong, according to parochial vicar Fr. Douglas Badong.

Both Baclaran Church and Quiapo Church would continue to hold Easter Masses, which would be streamed on their respective Facebook pages for the public to watch.

Days before the government declared a lockdown on Luzon, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Romulo Valles instructed parishes to instead hold Masses through radio, television, and the internet.

“In spite of the fact that our faithful cannot be physically present in the Eucharistic celebration, the crisis gives us the opportunity to unite ourselves with one another in the bond of spiritual communion through the digital technology,” Valles said in a circular.

For those who have no access to technology, Valles said “that a mere desire to be part of the Eucharistic celebration, with the given circumstances, already unites us spiritually to the Body of Christ.”

Members of the Redemptorist Children's Ministry, dressed as angels, reenact the "Salubong" as they welcome the Risen Christ at the Baclaran Church last 2017. Vincent Go, ABS-CBN News

Asked whether celebrating virtual Mass was “less” than attending one physically, CBCP spokesperson Jerome Secillano stressed that what mattered was the individual’s “relationship with God.”

“The only thing that should matter is our relationship with God because we know very well that even science and medicine couldn't find a cure yet for this coronavirus,” he said in a television interview.


Badong said Masses through television, radio and the internet would be a challenge for Filipinos since they would be prone to distractions.

“Halimbawa, tumanaw lang sila sa computer or sa cellphone nila at time and again, may magme-message, magte-text sila,” he said.

Cueto, meanwhile, hoped Filipinos would find this year’s Easter “more meaningful” even without attending physical Masses and other activities.

Churchgoers welcome the image of the risen Jesus Christ by taking pictures with their mobile phones after celebrating the Easter Vigil Mass at the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City last 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

“Kahit physically hindi man makapunta sa simbahan ay ‘yong puso at ‘yong diwa natin, at ang kamalayan natin, sana ay maibalik sa Panginoon,” he said.

For Arevalo, who has spent nearly all her life participating in Easter activities, the absence of practices like the Salubong and their homegrown Saboy does not take away the essence of the religious holiday.

“All the pomp and circumstances, and mga pakulo na ganiyan, dumadagdag lang naman siya... Hindi nawawala ‘yong mismong bakit sine-celebrate ito,” she said.