The path of the pilgrim, part 1

FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto - The Freeman

Since I read Jose Rizal's “Noli Me Tangere” in high school, I had always wanted to go to Obando, Bulacan and see the ritual dance that Maria Clara's parents performed to  ask for a child from God with the intercession of saints. Apart from the Sinulog, the dancing in Obando is the only other Catholic ritual dance that I know of.

A month before the fiesta, I had called the Obando Church and asked how I could get there and what time the ceremonies would start. I was told to take a jeepney from a terminal located at the back of a mall in Caloocan City and that the procession would start at eight in the morning. The feast days were from May 17 to 19 and a procession was held each day.

I checked the Internet for information on the Obando fiesta and found Wikipedia entries and blog sites describing it as “fertility rites.” The three-day event honored three saints. May 17 was for San Pascual Baylon and he is the patron saint of fertility, wealth, abundance, and for those who want a male child. May 18 is for Santa Clara and she is the patron saint of people seeking a spouse and those who want a female child. May 19 is for Our Lady of Salambao, the patron saint of fishermen and for those praying for a good harvest.

I had asked several friends to join me and they all said that they would go. At the last minute, no one could make it. Thus, on the feast day of San Pascual Baylon, I left the house by myself at 6:45 in the morning, hailed a cab, and thought that the driver could take me to Obando. He refused claiming that the roads were bad and agreed to take me only as far as Monumento. “You're better off taking the jeepney,” he assured me.

I found the terminal but an old man I asked for directions said that I was better off waiting at the corner as the jeepneys parked at the terminal did not leave until they were filled with passengers. I followed his instructions and found a jeepney to Obando in two minutes.

I asked the woman beside me if she was going to the Obando Church. She said that she was and asked if I was Bisaya. “Your accent,” she added.  I laughed and wondered why the twenty-two years I spent studying and working in Metro Manila still hadn't improved my Tagalog. She was from a town in Southern Cebu.  Her maiden name translated to “good luck.” I felt lucky to find a guide from my own province to go to a place I had never been to.

She narrated that she had been going to Obando since 1994 to continue her Tagalog mother-in-law's panata or promise to go to the Obando fiesta every year. "We Cebuanos don't believe in passing on a promise to pray to a saint  or to go to a particular place, do we?" she mused. I shrugged. I've heard of anting-antings or amulets and other things that bordered on the supernatural being passed on to family members but not a promise to continue a devotion to a saint.

The roads going to Obando were as rough as the cab driver said they would be. Some parts were covered with muddy water about four inches deep. Stagnant water also covered front yards of the houses beside the road. “Things are worse at high tide,” my seatmate informed me.

It was past eight in the morning and some of the roads had been closed when we arrived. We got down the jeepney and walked to the church, careful not to be run over by the trisikads that plied the streets. Outside the church, vendors selling abaca fans, kakanin or native delicacies made of rice, candles, toys, and other goods filled every available space. A little old woman pressed three crudely made scapulars into my hand and said that they would give me luck. She also asked for forty pesos. As I am a great admirer of hustling old women, I gave her the money she asked for.

I made it to Obando. My high school wish was fulfilled.


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