Text and photos by Dax Simbol

A penitent rests during a procession on Good Friday in Capas, Tarlac. Photo by Dax Simbol.

TARLAC, PHILIPPINES—Everything happened so fast. I am standing beside a resting penitent, holding a 10-foot cross.

For the past couple of years, I have been photographing the men and women penitents of Barangay Talaga, Capas of this province. I have become familiar with the stories behind the panata (vow) of some of the penitents.

I have interviewed elders of the community about the culture and rituals behind the traditions.

The night before Holy Friday, I was drinking with some of the would-be and past penitents. There were 10 of us talking about how kids today just do the penitensya without prior consent from community elders.

Back then, you had to talk to the elders, ask for their consent. It was their decision to say if you are ready or not. And if you were ready, say, to lift a cross, you were to say a particular set of prayers. Even the ‘Hudyos‘ would have to be chosen. Hudyos are the assistants of the penitents, who make sure they offer water and food. They make sure to assist in the lifting of the cross when the penitent decides to start walking and carries young banana trunks as whip to help ease muscle tension.

So we decided the next day to meet at around 8:00 a.m. I would be there to take photos and assist if needed.

My brother in-law and I came early. Nobody else came. Maybe it was the booze last night, maybe others could have played Hudyo to other penitents.

So came the penitent. At first, my job was easy. All I had to do was make sure each time the penitent rested I would hold the cross steady. But my camera would get in the way. So I had to ditch it. Luckily, my nephew was following us with his tricycle.

The sun was glaring at us, and I could sense that the penitent was getting weaker by the moment. We had to help him lift the cross each time he would start walking. And each time, the cross seemed to be getting heavier.

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