Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Kalbaryo of the Urban Poor


The Kalbaryo of the Urban Poor

The Kalbaryo of the Urban Poor started in 1987. Over the years it has taken place in different places: in Leveriza; on top of the old Smokey Mountain; in the Cabuyao relocation area; in urban poor areas along the Pasig River; but most often in Mendiola.

The Kalbaryo has tried to show that God has a “preferential” love of the poor and also that the sufferings of Jesus Christ in his passion and death are repeated in the sufferings of the urban poor. Also, that Jesus’ resurrection is repeated in an initial way in the actions of the poor to organize themselves and seek non violent democratic solutions to their problems, such as forced evictions, hunger, joblessness, substandard housing, over-expensive water and light, poor schools, criminality, corruption and violence.

Sometimes 5,000 people joined the Kalbaryo, sometimes only 150. Sometimes the mainstay of Kalbaryo was near professional and dramatic dancing in which the dancers wore Christ-mask. Sometimes the Kalbaryo followed the traditional Stations of the Cross.

Once it was a dramatic re-enactment of the passion and death on the top of Smokey Mountain when it was still an active dumpsite. Scavengers were working in the garbage under clouds of flies though it was Good Friday. It was April so it was steaming hot; the smell was that of a battlefield of rotting corpses. Smokey Mountain then was the symbol of the country’s poverty so it was appropriate that the Kalbaryo be held there. The actor playing Jesus, Mary, the Holy Women and the Centurion and Roman soldiers climbed through the garbage to the top, re-enacted the crucifixion and then prostrated themselves on the garbage. Calvary was re-enacted on a garbage pile where dozens of other innocent lives were wasted everyday through disease and malnutrition.

Another year the Kalbaryo started in Leveriza with the Alay Kapwa group of Sr. Christine Tan, and then went to several other urban poor areas. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Kalbaryo had become a very professional dance that took place at high noon in Mendiola. The dancers wore Christ masks. In the script the same words were used by Pilate to condemn Jesus and the Manila authorities to condemn the poor. Both were called “trouble makers, malcontents, opportunists, outsiders.” The dance was so moving there was absolute silence though thousands were present. The only sound was the continuous buzz of the camera shutters. Policemen took off their hats and came nearer to see and hear better.

Once a group planned to sing the Pabasa all night in Quezon Memorial Circle Park as part of the Kalbaryo.

Another year the Kalbaryo was held in the Cabuyao relocation center. Some 5,000 or so families had just moved in; they had been evicted from Makati, San Andres and other places along the railroad tracks. They had no light, drinking water, school, market, clinic or jobs. Their income had dropped by 20%. Next to the relocated people was another garbage dump, which when it rained heavily sent a black toxic liquid from the dumpsite into the people’s homes.

The people were not allowed on the dumpsite. The crucifixion was re-enacted, and Jesus wearing a bloody mask and robe carried into nearby house for his “burial”. He was freshened up; the mask was removed; he was shining in white clothes. When he re-appeared, resurrected, smiling as a young man might smile after a great victor, the people cheered. It’s easy to believe they saw a connection between Jesus’ victory over pain and death, and their own efforts to improve their very bad situation.

On April 1 the urban poor will once again march (from Liwasang Bonifacio to Plaza Miranda) with Jesus in triumph on a horse and the crowds celebrating as they did on his entry into Jerusalem.

At today’s Kalbaryo the passion and resurrection will be again re-enacted in song and dance directed by Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). All the dancers and singers are urban poor people.

There will be a reading of the Charter of the Urban Poor which calls on civil society and the government to solve some of the problems: policies on evictions, for example, land tenure security, basic services for all, decent houses, jobs and food. The poor want to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

Mass with Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and other priests and bishops will be in the Quiapo Church.

People will be asked to sign their names to show support of the suggestions made in the Charter.

They are also asked to write their dearest wish on a “stick em” and paste it to the giant cross.

All are invited.

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