by: Rommel F. Lopez

Fr. Michell Joe B. Zerrudo riding the back of an elf truck with a life-sized crucifix (photo from the Most Holy Redeemer Parish – Araneta Facebook Page)

The enhanced community quarantine did not deter a parish in Quezon City from holding a beloved Filipino tradition every May: the Santacruzan.

The Most Holy Redeemer Parish (MHRP) in Araneta under the Diocese of Cubao held a Santacruzan around the parish even while the entire city is still under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The Santacruzan is a popular festival held in the Philippines in the month of May dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and lasts for the entire month. It is a religious-historical procession and pageant that recalls the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena of Constantinople (in Filipino as Reyna Elena) and Constantine the Great. 

Fr. Michell Joe B. Zerrudo, parish priest of MHRP said the first Sunday, May 3, was the “right date” for them to have the santacruzan which went around the 3 baranggays that are within his parish: Sto. Niño, Doña Imelda and Santol.

Fr. Zerrudo, who is also the Diocese of Cubao’s exorcist and head of its catechetical ministry stressed that pious activities like religious processions are “ways by which the Lord goes to his people inasmuch as the circumstance prevent them from going to Church.”

“As much as possible I would like our parish to be visible not only through charity but also through devotions,” he added referring to the relief goods packed and distributed by his parish.  

At Fr. Zerrudo’s old parish in Holy Family at Roxas District, Quezon City, his parish church had been converted into an instant evacuation center whenever rising floods would submerge the houses of residents within his parish.

A young parishioner played the role of St. Helena of Constantinople (photo from the Most Holy Redeemer Parish – Araneta Facebook Page)

“We have a daily mass on line and also a Flores de Mayo every morning. But our Flores does not consist of floral offerings. Rather the flowers consisted of the devotional and charitable works assigned for each day. We begin with the rosary and then i give the meditations based on the old book entitled “Marikit na Bulaklak” which was translated into tagalog by msgr Mariano Sevilla,” he said.

He added that through social media, their Flores de Mayo is now being delivered to 5 parishes in the diocese.

The procession, which started at 4:00PM and ended at 5:30PM, consisted of two pick-up trucks with the first one having a young woman at the back dressed up as St. Helena of Constantinople clinging to a lifesized cross which the parish uses for their Way of the Cross,.  The second truck, which Fr. Zerrudo rode, had a lifesized crucifix at the back.

“I also rode with the crucifix so that i can bless the people we passed by. We were escorted by policemen from the galas station,” Fr. Zerrudo said.

Fr. Zerrudo recounted how surprised he was when he saw the policemen who escorted the procession brought with them sandwiches which they gave to some people along the way. 

Mindful of the government’s policy of wearing a face mask whenever outside, everyone in the procession, even the young woman who dressed up like St. Helena had to wear a face mask.

“I think it was a blessing because attention was not focused on the sagala (the young woman in costume joining the procession) but on the cross and the saint she represented. The Santacruzan we had was the most basic form of the much loved custom. There were a Reina Elena and a cross,” Fr. Zerrudo said.

Since the start of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), his parishioners were all constrained to stay inside their homes and thus unable to join any religious rituals.  However, with the parish, Fr. Zerrudo said the procession was well received by parishioners since they felt that through the procession the parish cares for them.

“Processions have become our parishioners’ way of experiencing the sacred inasmuch as they could not go to Church,” Fr. Zerrudo said.

For now, Fr. Zerrudo said that if religious gatherings would still be banned in June by the government he is planning to have daily meditations on the Sacred Heart streamed on the parish’s Facebook page.

June is the month traditionally devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the Catholic Church.

What started out as an online retreat for catechists in the diocese, since Fr. Zerrudo is also the diocesan head of the Catechetical Ministry, the online retreat has become a regular fixture of his parish with retreat topics ranging from the Oblation to Merciful Love of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and on the Divine Mercy. 

Fr. Zerrudo said the pandemic “has given us so much free time” and as such it has given them the opportunity to “bring the gospel to a world that has considered matters of faith as trivial.”

“The digital world is the new areopagus and like St. Paul we would like to bring the gospel there. As for the processions, these are means by which we bring the sacred to our streets. Processions are not displays of religious pageantry. Rather they are acts of worship and petitions for divine blessing & protection,” he said.