A new, livelier ‘Salubong’ welcomes Easter in PH’s oldest church

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2019 07:44 AM | Updated as of Apr 21 2019 10:39 PM

MANILA - After the clock struck midnight on Easter Sunday, the images of the Risen Christ and the Virgin Mary emerged from churches all over the Philippines, as congregations acted out their versions of the traditional salubong.

The salubong depicts the apocryphal meeting of mother and son after Christ’s Resurrection.

But at the Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin in Intramuros, Manila--popularly known as the San Agustin Church--the salubong was told in dance, music, and amped-up ritual. It's a first for the oldest church in the country, its organizers said.

For them, it is also a new take on tradition that could help young Catholics connect to their faith more.

The highlight of this version is the arrival of Christ, said the performance director Peter De Vera of the National Dance Committee of the National Council for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The images of Christ and Mary were accompanied in procession to the San Agustin church by separate groups of men and women, in keeping with tradition.

In front of the church, a host of girls wearing angels’ wings and boys wearing vestments waited for the arrival as choral and orchestral music streamed through speakers. 

Instead of traditionally removing the mourning veil from the image of Mary at the climax of the salubong, it was done first to focus the participants on the approach of Christ’s image that lasted nearly 5 minutes.

“Ang highlight ng salubong natin palagi is the unveiling of Mary. Kaya lang nagtatanong kami, after the unveiling, what's next? Parang hindi nabigyan ng importansya yung pagdating ng risen Christ. Parang we're just waiting for the unveiling and then finished,” he said.

“Bigyan natin siya ng espesyal kasi yun talaga yung pinagse-celebrate natin, di ba?”

De Vera said his team developed the performance for 8 years in Pampanga. The performers rode to Manila from the province hours before the salubong.

“So in some parishes we tried it, and effective kasi sabi nila, iba, sabi iba yung naramdaman namin,” he said.

“Ang mga tao ngayon, especially the Millennials, they would like to see movement, colors, mga keen aesthetic, they would like to be touched. So sabi ko, with the experiment we have, iba yung feeling.”

San Agustin Church Parish priest Fr. Arnold Sta. Maria, OSA, who saw the performance only during the salubong, said it is part of their parish’s thrust to include younger people in church activities.

"Dito sa parokya, patuloy na nilalapitan namin ang mga kabataan. At sa paglapit naming iyon, walang diskriminasyon. Lahat ay tanggap ng simbahan, lahat ay nagiging bahagi kung paano ang Panginoong Hesukristo ay makikilala hindi lang sa katawang pagiging Kristiyano, kundi higit na maunawaan ang pag-ibig na binitawan ng Panginoon sa sangkatauhan, at yan ay napapanahon ngayon sa mga kabataan,” Sta. Maria said.

The parish hopes to repeat this version of the salubong next Easter.

Yet while De Vera agrees that the livelier, camera-worthy salubong could attract young people, it should not be seen as entertainment.

“Aside from the homily or reading the Bible I think this form of performances can be considered as evangelization. Eighty percent of these performers, they already consider this performance as their pamanata already. And that's the reason why sila naiintindihan nila that this is not just to give highlight, just to give colors,” he said.

“Ito tayo e, how we connect. And through our dance, through our song, we connect to our Creator.”