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As a predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines observes Holy Week a little more seriously than other countries. We visit different churches, pray (extra) solemnly, and of course, give up the meat. And then there are those who practice penitensya.

Penitensya or penitence is an age-old tradition where penitents allow themselves to be whipped up in the back, draw blood by using pieces of broken glass, crawl on the floor, and carry the cross a la Jesus as they participate in a long procession. Some even go as far as getting themselves crucified.

Millennials are hardly expected to join the tradition, but 23-year-old Julius Lacaba has been at it since he was 17 years old.  He willingly undergoes extreme physical pain, every year without fail, as a form of redemption. So just before he does it again this coming Good Friday, we asked him some questions about this holy week practice.

When did you start practicing penitensya?
Nagsimula ako when I was 17 years old. Sa amin kasi sa Mandaluyong, tradition na talaga siya. It runs in our family; all of my titos and pati father ko nagpepeniyensya din dati.

How do you prepare yourself for it every year?
Nag e-exercise ako one week before Good Friday, and kumakain nang marami lalo na a day before nung araw ng penitensya para kahit papano hindi mabigla yung katawan ko.

Why do you do it?
Siyempre dahil sa faith ko talaga. Ito na rin kasi yung way ko ng pasasalamat sa Diyos sa lahat ng mga blessing na natatanggap ko.

Can you give us a short summary of how the whole thing works? Any rules and limitations?
Sa rules wala namang restriction when it comes to age. But you need to make sure na kaya ng katawan mo. Sa amin, maraming pabasa, tapos for 4-5 hours, iikutin namin lahat ng mga pabasa sa lugar namin siguro mga five barangays din yun. And every pabasa dadapa kami three times. It symbolizes the three times Jesus Christ fell sa way of the cross. And every time, dapat papaluin kami ng sinturon and susugatan yung likod namin using broken glass. May dasal din kami na nirerecite.

How does it feel after—physically and spiritually?
Ang pakiramdam ko talaga every year is parang na-redeem ko yung sarili ko sa mga nagawa kong kasalanan.

When was the most memorable penitensya for you?
The most memorable penitensya for me was when yung papa ko yung nag-alalay sa kin. Wala kasi silang idea na papalo ako. Masarap sa pakiramdam and parang yun kasi yung symbol ng pagtutuloy ng tradition from my father.

What’s going through your mind whenever you practice penitensya?
To be honest, sobrang kinakabahan pa rin ako every year. Pero habang pinapractice ko yun, nagdadasal lang ako lagi. Humihingi ako ng kapatawaran sa lahat ng mga nagawa ko. Yun yung tumatakbo sa isip ko.

Lastly, what does practicing penitensya do for you? Why is it so important for you and what are its positive impacts in your life?
It gives me hope sa lahat ng mga challenges na nakaharap ko and hinaharap ko. Saka lalong nagiging strong yung faith ko. Alam ko naman na dinidiscourage itong tradition na ito ng Catholic Church, but for us na nagpa-practice nito, ito talaga yung way ko para ma-redeem yung sarili ko.

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