Tragedy fails to shake Filipino faith, religious tradition1:49 PM, July 10, 2019
Philippines:Holy Cross feast celebration in Bocaue now has added purpose following tragedy more than 20 years ago that killed 200 people.
A pagoda that carries a replica of a cross supposedly found on a river north of Manila in 1850 is anchored on the spot where 200 devotees drowned in a 1993 tragedy. (Photo by Maria Tan)
The feast of the Holy Cross, which is observed every first Sunday of July in a town north of Manila in the Philippines, is a celebration tinged with tragedy.
On July 2, 1993, the Wawa River in the town of Bocaue turned into a watery grave for more than 200 devotees, who died when a boat carrying the cross sank.
It was then that the celebration, which supposedly started in the mid-1800s when a wooden cross was found floating in the river nearly died.
The story of what was later known as the Pagoda Festival of Bocaue became legend.
A woman was supposedly saved miraculously from drowning after she saw an image of a big wooden cross floating on the flooded river. She swam to the cross and clung to it and was able to reach the riverbank safely.
From then on, the townsfolk, believing what had happened was a miracle, held an annual religious procession on the river to honor the Holy Cross.
But after the tragedy, celebrations were toned down for 20 years. In 2013, however, St. Martin of Tours Parish, which has jurisdiction over the Wawa River, decided to bring back the feast’s grandeur.
"We were hurt, but the tradition still lives on," Father Daniel Coronel, the assistant parish priest, told ucanews.com.
"When we are hurt, we slow down, but it doesn’t always mean we stop. Rather, we gather more strength. That’s what happened with the festival.
"Now that it’s back, you can feel the passion for the tradition, the kind of passion that doesn’t fade no matter what happens."
Father Coronel admitted that the devotion of the people, especially those who visit the parish every day to pray before the cross, is overwhelming.
"If it wasn’t for the people's faith, the festival and the tradition would have been long gone," said the priest.
"We are not giving anything to these people, but one thing is for sure, the Holy Cross of Wawa is giving them something."
The 1993 disaster has engendered a new tradition that is observed every year. On the eve of the feast, a Mass is celebrated on a floating pagoda that is anchored in the exact spot on the river where the tragedy occurred. There in the middle of the river, in the darkness, the names of those who died are recited.
Cecilio Zafra, a boatman who survived the tragedy, admitted that the incident made him question his faith. "I had doubts," he said. "But when I thought about it, maybe I was spared because I still have a mission," he said.
Zafra continues to serve the parish church, something that he started doing when he was in his early teens.
"Their faith is personal in the sense that they identify their own suffering and triumph with the cross," said Father Coronel.
"It is also ecclesial because, collectively, we see the same thing with the cross. We don’t talk, but we know that God is watching over us."
Another priest who delivered the homily during the Mass to celebrate the feast noted that the cross has always been a "symbol of the connection of the people to God."
"Every day we embrace it. We rise, we work, we liberate. It’s hard, but it’s easier if we do it with love," he said.
"Every time we suffer, every time we win over our weaknesses, every time we hug our fellow men with love, we embrace the cross of God."
More than a century after the supposedly miraculous cross was discovered on the river, the people of Bocaue refuse to waver in their faith and continue to believe.
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