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On Good Friday Marathon, Phillip's Filipino Catholics can not stop singing about Jesus



Ofelia "VJ" Tanjutco, 77, learned the pabasa as a child in her Filipino hometown Bataan. The elders taught her the way-or, rather, they forced her to her, she joked.

Further north, in the Nueva Ecija agricultural province, Remedio's "Reme" Cargado sang in her neighbor's house. She remembers how she felt closer to God.

Sister Loretto "Lory" Mapa never practiced her until she left her monastery in Manila and came to the United States in the 1

980s. "Believe it or not," says the 83-year-old nun.

All three women are now part of a community that continues the Philippine fasting tradition of pabasa in the Philadelphia area. Usually at 5 o'clock in the morning on Good Friday the faithful in Catholic churches and private homes begin the pyyon Jesus' life story, singing and stopping only when they have reached the end of over 200 years -page Pasyong Mahal an epic poem from the 16th century that was translated into Tagalog. At "Our Lady of Hope" on North Broad Street in Logan, the song closes at 6 pm to allow time for a procession around the church with a statue of Jesus. But in some houses it may extend after midnight.

Tanjutco, a retired chemist living in Cherry Hill, is part of the large Philippine community that visits St. Augustine Church in the Old Town. There, she says, they try to cope before ten in the evening and record the tempo of the songs, as it will later. One or two chiefs set the tone for how the group will sing pyyon which can range from chanty to pop-like. They often change the melody with each new chapter. Otherwise people could fall asleep, according to Tanjutco.

The Holy Week before Easter is very large in the largely Catholic Philippines. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are days off, and Filipinos show their devotion by not only participating in the pabasa (pa-BA-sa, which means "reading"), but also at the senakulo or Passion plays, in which the citizens imitate Jesus' life and suffering, and even the bloody penitensya in which men whip themselves on the streets and are nailed to a cross.


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JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

"The early birds" come before dawn to Our Lady of Hope with pots of Filipino Chocolate Mash, or champorado, and rolls called pan de sal . They drink a ginger tea Salabat to calm the throat all day long.

In the Philadelphia region, where the 2010 census counted 21,000 Filipinos born abroad, the pabasa performance is a way to make the states indigenous.

"Before I became a priest, I was always looking for the traditions that we have in the Philippines," said Rev. Efren Esmilla, who began more than 10 years ago pabasa at Our Lady of Hope to accommodate. About 100 parishioners come and go throughout the day during the event, he said, including some who are not Filipino.

At 9:00 am on Good Friday in the church's social hall, eight singers, mostly elderly women plus Esmilla sat in rows of chairs in front of a statue of Jesus flanked by candles. They sang a cappella out of faded copies of Pasyong Mahal, spikes held together with tape. Mugs were prepared Salabat a spicy tea made of fresh ginger to soothe their throats. In the end, they were only on the pages of

"These are the early birds," said Evangeline "Van" Kalugdan. "There will be more later."

Kalugdan, a former pharmacist who runs a Filipino grocery store on Bustleton Avenue, said she never worked on Good Friday in her life, even though she has been in America for almost 50 years. She arrived at the church with the Cargados before dawn and brought a stock pot of champorado chocolate porridge and dried fish from her shop.

The tone was more serious than it was alive, but it was clearly a social event as well, with the men sitting around a table sipping while the women sang.

Until the churches here began to observe tradition, Filipinos gathered in private homes to sing.

Cargado, 77, a retired nurse, hosted a pabasa for a decade and sometimes packed 50 people in her cellar to the northeast. Her husband, Mario, cooked such Filipino dishes as Kaldereta a beef stew and pancit or noodles, and there was always a dessert spread to beef the singers during the breaks. Technically, the devout have to fast on Good Friday, but pabasa participants receive a passport as they sing from before sunrise until after dark. (The Cargados wanted to arrange their accommodation just before Holy Week to avoid the problem.)


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JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

In the back half of the social hall of the Holy Mother of Hope, the men play and the children play. Mario Cargado brings out tray by tray with food.

Mario Cargado plays the same role in Our Lady of Hope, bringing tray after tray of food from the kitchen as the singers plunge deeper into pyyon . The breaks are rare, only take minutes, and the song never stops.

Did Reme Cargado ever get tired during the marathon?

"Oh no," she said. "The more I sing, the better my voice will be."

When she sings pyyon she says it feels like the Holy Ghost is lifting her up.

Similarly, Tanjutco said: I have the feeling that our Filipino spirit is alive. "

But she worries about passing the tradition on to the younger Filipinos in the area, and it's a problem even in the Philippines."

"We're all getting a little older," she said, "We're nervous. "

Those unfamiliar with pabasa should not be disheartened, Tanjutco said," All kinds of voices are welcome. "

" There are voices that sing too loud, and some, the sing in disgust, "she said." It's OK! "



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