(First of two parts)
HAD it not been for the three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Catholic towns in this predominantly Christian country of 114 million would be participating in what is called ‘Santacruzan’ on Wednesday.
This is the climax of the month-long festival called Flores de Mayo, with some religion observers describing it as sort of religio-historical beauty pageant.
It marks the discovery of the Holy Cross which, as believed, was made by Queen Helena and her son Constantine who became the first Christian Roman Emperor.
From Ilocos Norte down to Pangasinan, Metro Manila and Minglanilla in Cebu, including some towns in the Bicol Peninsula, Marian devotees pay tribute to the Virgin Mary, who, believers think, gives rain when farmers ask for it.
In Camalig, Albay, Aline Masip said the Santacruzan was held from May 12 to 20, with festival queens in a religious procession on the last day.
An old hand in Bayambang, Pangasinan, Pacifico Duque, 76, told the Manila Standard the Flores de Mayo celebration represents the farmers’ unwavering gratitude.
The procession makes flowers bloom and grow new crops for food as barangays in the agricultural town of Bayambang participate in processions with residents praying for rain.
Bayambang, a town for fermented fish (buro) delicacy, is considered the “cornbelt of Pangasinan” and the “onion capital of Pangasinan, the largest province in the Ilocos Region.”
In Paoay, Ilocos Norte, the Catholic faithful had their Santacruzan on May 28, according to Dr. Wilma Natividad of the Mother Butler Guild, Catholic Women’s League and the Mother of Perpetual Help.
Like other Catholic-populated towns, parishioners of Saint Augustine Church, a UN Heritage Lister, celebrated the discovery of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son, Constantine, at 4 pm, two hours and 21 minutes before the sun set on Paoay Lake near the town proper.
“It coincided with the celebration of the Mayflower Festival which started with a mass officiated by the Parish Priest Rev. Msgr. Romualde Batoon, followed by the coronation of the image of the Virgin Mary by the parish priest and the offering of flowers and leis by selected parishioners,” Natividad said.
Joining them were the Sagalas (young ladies) chosen from the 31 barangays of the municipality and the ladies and gentlemen of the parish in their Filipiniana attire, with the procession passing by the municipal hall and ended up in church.
Minglanilla town in Cebu, known for its Sugat Kabanhawan Festival which garnered the highest number of awards in the 2022 Pasigarbo sa Sugbo Festival of Festivals, also has its own religious procession on Wednesday, according to Mary Anne Tampos.
This will be in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the same way Flores de Mayo will be celebrated in other towns of the archipelago as those in Albay, Tarlac and some towns of the Cagayan Valley.
Not many are aware that there is a difference between Santacruzan and Flores de Mayo, since they are both commemorated in the same month.
Rev Fr. Jaime Padilla of the Sacred Heat of Jesus Parish in Brookside, Cainta, Rizal, said, in the run up to the parish own version of the religious-cultural fesitval: “There is a difference although they are closely related and often celebrated together as part of the same festival.
Flores de Mayo is a month-long celebration, with flowers being dedicated to the Virgin Mary “as a symbol of love, devotion and honor” and a time for the faithful “to express their gratitude and reverence to Mary through prayer, novenas and recitation of the holy rosary.”
He said Santacruzan, one of the highlights of Flores de Mayo, is a specific event within the month-long flower festival.
“It is a religious procession that portrays various biblical characters and significant figures from salvation history,” the 60-year-old priest said.
The highlights of the Santacruzan is a re-enactment of the finding of what is believed as the True Cross on which Jesus was nailed by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine.
At the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and elsewhere in the country, the procession is accompanied by prayers and hymn.