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Efren N. Padilla

Religious tourism is more fun in the Philippines

April 12, 2012 11:08am
The viral photo of a young woman in “skimpy” shorts impersonating Jesus’ crucifixion hours after the Good Friday activities in Angeles City, Pampanga has caused quite a stir lately. 
 
Pampanga, one of the provinces in the Philippines, draws hordes of tourists, visitors, and devotees to witness its annual event of self-flagellation as well as Senakulo. The immediate reaction especially from believers was one of shock. Many were incensed about the incident because what could have been a serene and religious reenactment of the life, suffering, and death of Jesus had been turned into a fun and circus-like occasion.
 
The responses from the Catholic hierarchy were mixed, but what stood out for me was what one priest said on a morning TV show interview. I was flabbergasted by Father Joe Dizon's off-the-cuff remark comparing the so-called “sexy” lady in the photo to the adulterous woman in the Bible who was brought to Jesus by self-righteous people.
 
I can understand why the good priest wanted to appear lenient about the incident. He believes that there are more serious issues that Catholics have to deal with than this one, such as human rights violations, corruption, etc. 
 
But if he thinks that the alleged accusers are a self-righteous bunch and simultaneously disparages the alleged victim by comparing her to a woman of ill-repute, he is far from doing her a favor. If he is trying to make sense of this incident by appearing lenient, he is not shedding light into the controversy at all. For how can one make sense of something that ostensibly exudes a not-so-subtle moral snobbery from the vantage point of a religious high ground? 
 
Who are we to say that those who are offended by the perceived insensitivity to one’s contrived rituals and church-supported practices are self-righteous? Who are we to gratuitously compare the alleged “sexy” young woman to a prostitute? Even if one is not a priest, anyone cannot just indiscriminately make these personal and moral assumptions. I think his eminence is being personally licentious, if not, disingenuous here. 
 
I believe an incident like this will occur again. One may be able to design and implement certain rules and regulations to manage it, but I don’t think one can totally eliminate similar controversial displays. For me, the outcome is expected, if not inevitable, because we are dealing with an issue that is larger than the attitude and behavior of individuals. In fact, I’d say that the issue at hand has nothing to do with personal religiosity and morality at all, but has everything to do with what is happening to all of our social institutions, particularly religion.
 
Sociologically, I refer to the historical processes of secularization and commodification of religious institutions. These are complex sociological terms, but allow me to come up with a specific working definition relevant to the issue at hand.  
 
By secularization I mean the growing emancipation of religious functions to the secular spheres of science, politics, and economy. Commodification refers to the growing replacement of religious values by market values. As a result, religious influences in thought and behavior are reduced by the preponderance and predominance of market relationships in everyday life.
 
In our case, the social phenomena of secularization and commodification may be used in explaining the growing interplay between religion and tourism in the country. In fact, it has been observed that one of the fastest business growth areas in the holiday industry is religious tourism. This is particularly true of tourist destinations associated with mainstream religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Sikhism. 
 
The Philippines being a predominantly Catholic country in Asia, its religious tourism is competing with other well-known and established religious destinations in the world. For example, the country’s Basilicas, i.e., Basilica de San Sebastian in Manila, Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu, and Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, may not be able to compete with the likes of St. Peter Basilica in Vatican, Lourdes in France, Sanctuary of Our Lady Fatima in Portugal, or the Church of Resurrection and Golgotha Hill in Jerusalem.   
 
But some Filipino Catholics have been actively creating their own non-Biblical versions of religious tourism (with the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy, of course) with their live and gory crucifixions and self-flagellation, particulary in Marinduque’s Moriones and San Fernando’s Senakulo, as well as the fun-filled and riotous Santo Niño Mardi Gras in Cebu’s Sinulog, Aklan’s Ati-Atihan, and Iloilo’s Dinagyang.
 
And so, if many younger religious or non-religious travelers want a vacation or a trip that combines a church-supported religious spectacle with fun, you can’t blame them. Even Holy Week is indeed “more fun in the Philippines.” 
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