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AN PASYON NI KRISTO SA CALABANGA: 30 years of faith, tradition and devotion

By Karen B. Compañero


Faith. Tradition. Devotion- the driving force behind the “An Pasyon ni Kristo (APK)” having been brought into fruition thirty years ago and the key to its continuous existence until now.


It all started with a vision - a vision of reliving Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection; a vision of bringing God closer to the people; and a vision of making the Lenten Season even more remarkable and meaningful.


In 1993, Fr. Rey Jose Rellora, then Youth Director and the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of La Porteria Parish, brought the Passion Play to Calabanga. Having the experience when he was in the parish of Tinambac, and with the inspiration from Oberammergau, a German Passion Play conducted every 10 years, Fr. Rellora encouraged the Parish Youth Ministry (PYM) to come up with a simple production. The PYM were tasked to find the cast. They tapped the parish religious organizations such as the Cursillo and Neo Catechumenal Way (NCW) for the casting. The first ever “Kristo” of APK-Calabanga was in the person of Ronquil ‘Jay-Ar’ Manansala. With almost only 30 to 40 cast members, with the apostles not even completed, the play was realized. One of its founding members is the now Board of Director of CANTADA, Rodel Perez.


Using cardboard and stapler and without any external funding but solely from Fr. Rellora’s own pocket, the production focused on portraying the scenes of Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion shown on Good Friday. Since lapels or microphones were a luxury those times, the play resorted to use of pantomime. Despite being only in its first year, and despite the humble production cost, the play was well-received by the people. This fueled the desire of the cast to perform even better the next year.


In 1994, the play had an even wider audience. The scene where Jesus falls due to carrying the heavy cross became sensational when an old woman from the audience voluntarily wiped the face of the acting ‘Jesus’. It was an emotional moment which brought everyone to tears. News of the play’s success reached far and wide that a local tv network interviewed then Parish priest, Fr. Alfonso Grageda. He took the opportunity to ask for financial support. It was then that the Parish Pastoral Council under Dioscoro Aquino donated Php3,000 for the APK.


As the play even became bigger, more scenes were added. In 1995, the Siete Palabras scene was added to the Calvary Scene. This time, the play did not merely mention Jesus dying on the Cross but focused on Jesus’ Seven Last Words. As compared to the first two years, there had been more cast this time. Also, the former cardboard costumes of the soldiers were now replaced by castura (copra sack) for a more realistic visual.


The praying of Jesus and His apostles at the Garden of Getsemani as well as the Last Supper Scene were added in 1996. It was done in the morning of Maundy Thursday. Those scenes were then moved and presented in the evening the following year, 1997. Then, the Scene of King Herod with his dancers was added in 1998.


With the ever-growing production, auditions for the main roles were already conducted. Additional cast members were taken from SAMBIT (Sentro ng Manlilikhang Bumubuo ng Identidad at Talento- formerly Samahang Bagong Inog sa Tanghalan), the drama and cultural arts organization of Central Bicol State University of Agriculture-Calabanga (formerly Calabanga Polytechnic College) which is under the passion play’s director, Rose Ubano-Cid. While for the roles of saksi and soldiers, everyone interested in joining was welcomed. It is the goal of the play to include people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, status, and others. Everybody is welcomed because the production upholds the belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God.


The play went bigger and bigger every year. Around two to three more years, the scenes of the passion play had been completed. It was termed the “KAPANUAN”. The ‘An Pasyon ni Kristo sa Calabanga’ officially became a three-act play shown to the public on the evening of Maundy Thursday, morning and afternoon of Good Friday and dawn of Easter Sunday.


But just like any other growing and prospering group act, the APK was halted in 2004 when numerous issues and conflicts in terms of venue, budget and production arose. It was a year of reflection for the cast and production staff in terms of the real aim and reason for the existence of the passion play. It was as if politics had been slowly creeping into the play.


When the APK resumed in 2005, it started receiving funding from the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Calabanga. From then on, more and more sponsors and donors took interest in the play. Thus, props and costumes were upgraded providing better production quality.


Years later, the play had its first Priest-Christ in the person of Fr. Antonio Rex Palaya and its first Priest- Pilate portrayed by Fr. Abenson C. Martinez.


For so long, the play’s production has been attributed to the Parish Youth Ministry. But in reality, many members of the play are not even PYM members. Every year, additional cast were coming from SAMBIT. With the increase in interested participants and volunteers, and the unstoppable growing production, more areas needed to be given attention. However, APK had no no focal person nor legal personality. For this reason, the group decided to have it registered with the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) under the name CaNTADA which stands for Calabanga Network of Talents and Arts Development Advocacy, termed by Bernardo Miguel ‘Buboy’ Aguay.


Under the group’s new identity, CaNTADA continued its goal of bringing the Passion Play every Lenten Season. Every performance had been successful, and the play had been more grandiose year after year.


Everything seems to be going smoothly, until the pandemic. The start of APK practice is usually every Ash Wednesday. It had been disappointing to know and difficult to accept that the play would be cancelled for the year 2020 as lockdown had been made effective on March 15. The APK was suspended during the three years of the pandemic.


Last year had been the successful resumption of the Passion play. It should have been the 30th year of the play had it not been for the pandemic. Nonetheless, the cast and staff were all excited to resume the performance. The play became once again, an overall success.


This 2024 marks the 27th performance of ‘An Pasyon ni Kristo sa Calabanga’. In order to provide a performance like no other, the CaNTADA is gearing up and is now all set to show to everyone what the group has in store.


Faith. Tradition. Devotion- it is only through and because of these that the APK had gone this far. Indeed, when one sets the heart and mind in what one does and put God in the center of everything, nothing will go awry.

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