It was first performed during the Holy Week fifty seven years ago by amateur volunteer artists of barangay (barrio) San Pedro Cutud, who like the rest of the Filipinos during that period, had time on their hands because work or exertion on those holy days was taboo.
It was only in 1962 that the barangay first witnessed an actual crucifixion during the play. The Christ was portrayed by Artemio Anoza, a resident of nearby Apalit town and a quack doctor who dreamt that he would become a religious leader and full-fledge healer. Wanting to realize this dream, he volunteered himself to be crucified as a sacrifice.
Since then, not a year passed without an actual crucifixion taking place during the reenactment that has now been joined in by many penitents as a “panata” or vow of sacrifice.
In 1965, the role players and the penitents were invited to perform the sacrifice outside the barangay, this time in Betis, Guagua. The occasion caught national interest and subsequently became an international tourist attraction.
Through the years, Rolando Navarro passed on the family tradition he began to his son Ricardo and then to his grandson Allan Navarro who is the present director of the street play Via Crucis.
About the Tradition
One Filipino practice is the observance of Lent and the Holy Week that, for Catholics, is a time for atonement and sacrifice.
For Filipinos in Pampanga, the observance is characterized by the “senakulo” or “pabasa” which is the chanting of the passion of Christ as read from a book that locals call Pasyon. Other penitents called “magdarame” carry wooden crosses, crawl on rough pavements and slash their backs before whipping themselves to draw blood, to ask for forgiveness of sins committed, to fulfill vows (panata), or to express gratitude for favors granted.
On Good Friday each year, in the City of San Fernando, particularly in barangay San Pedro Cutud, thousands flock to witness the world-renowned crucifixion that is reenacted on a man-made hill after two-hour street play, Via Crucis is performed as it has been done for the past 50 years. In barangay Sta. Lucia the passion play is entitiled “Ing Lasa ning Guinu” while barangay San Juan also have crucifixions.
Contrary to the Catholic Church’s teachings and the commercialization of the event, the fervor for the tradition stays, with the townsfolk sticking to their faith and spiritual practice, constantly remaining pure in their panata which continues to be a source of community solidarity and strength.