Blessed Easter!  Our Lord is truly risen!

     For our experiences of Holy Week in different cultures  we have selections from Poland, the Philippines, the Holy Land, Ireland and Honduras and as the finale,  a second one from the Holy Land.   I think you will enjoy reading these. 

   POLAND from Mary Van Scot Seton alumna.  (Mary also sent a couple wonderful pictures.  I don’t know how to do pictures, but I would really like you to see these.  If you e-mail me, I will forward the pictures to you.  My e-mail:  [email protected]   )   Ok – here’s Polan

Blessed be the Name of Jesus!


Sorry I didn't answer your letter sooner, about Easter customs here in Poland. Hope it's not too late now!

There are three things that came pretty quickly to mind: one quirky cute, one folkloric cute, and one solemnly heart-touching. I'll tell them in that order, even though the chronological sequence won't be right.

 The quirky one is called "Drenching Monday." On the day after Easter (here it's called "the second day of Easter" and is a complete legal and religious holiday–Mass not obligatory but attendance matches a typical Sunday anyway) there is a tradition of boys throwing water on/at girls. It goes back to the Gospel, where you could say the Apostles threw cold water on the incredible news the holy women brought them about the empty tomb and Jesus actually appearing to them, arisen. Boys–little boys up through teenagers, and once in a while men, throw water on girls and, if they have the guts, women. In the time I've lived here in Poland I have seen the technology for this escalate from buckets and dippers to what you could only call water rifles. In fact when you go into the big stores in the weeks before Easter you will see huge displays of water pistols of all shapes and sizes. Many of them are monstrously big! Sometimes girls retaliate by carrying around a spray bottle of perfume and squirting anyone who throws water on them. One year I was walking to church that day and saw two young teenage boys with water pistols. One was talking on a cell phone to what sounded like must have been his girlfriend, urging her to come outside and meet up with him. Another year things were taken much too far. Near our parish some young men had set up a kind of station very strategically located at a crosswalk where not only did most people going to church have to pass by, but usually had to stand there waiting for a chance to cross the street. They must have lived in one of the nearby apartments or in some way have access to water because they had several buckets that they were constantly refilling. Any woman who walked by (yes including me) had a whole bucket of water thrown at her. I was wearing a raincoat that day and literally half of it got saturated. Luckily it was an unusually warm Easter that year so when we got to the church I took off my coat. Someone must have complained because on the way home, the boys were gone from the crosswalk and there was a police car sitting there instead. Usually, though, things stay at the level of harmless fun. Although older women do tell stories about their brothers and friends throwing them into ponds and water troughs back when they were all young and growing up on the farm….


The custom that especially strikes me as "folkloric" is the blessing of the Easter baskets on Holy Saturday. There is no custom here (more's the pity) of baskets full of candy on Easter morning, but there is a de rigeur custom of preparing an Easter basket and taking it to church during the day on Holy Saturday. The traditional Easter meal here is what you could describe as a deli brunch–lots of ham, sausage, potato salad, boiled eggs, breads, cakes, things like that. One very traditional staple is shredded beets mixed with horseradish, which actually is a terrific condiment with the dishes I just mentioned (except the cake). Anyway, on Holy Saturday the lady of the house puts symbolic amounts of those things in a basket. There has to be a boiled egg, preferably dyed (often onion skins are used for the dye and the egg turns a glowing red-brown), a piece of sausage, a piece of bread, some salt, something sweet, and a sprig of greenery. You can add other things too if you want. Then you put a doily or napkin on the top, maybe some decoration like a ribbon, and–since you're the lady of the house and have a ton of holiday cleaning and cooking to get through–you send someone to church with the basket. In the churches you most often see older children and younger teenagers with the baskets (often more than one sibling per family since it's kind of a fun errand), or, if the family is older, you'll often see the husband. This is an entertaining sight, seeing so many middle aged men with dainty little wicker baskets decorated with doilies and ribbons. A long table is set up in the church–quite often it runs the full length of the main aisle–and people come and set their baskets on the table. At our parish, for example, there is a 20-minute rotation from morning until mid-afternoon. Peoplecome in, put down their baskets, wait around, and every 20 minutes a priest comes out, says a nice prayer, and blesses first the baskets and then the people. Then you pick up your basket again and make way for the next people coming in behind you. It's important to not only remember how your basket is decorated but also to keep track of where exactly on the table you'd placed it, because all of those baskets, even though each one is decorated in its own way, tend to look alike when you're looking at a couple hundred of them at once! The basket has a place of honor at Easter breakfast, and its contents are shared out among everyone.


The last custom is called "the grave of God." In the US, of course, many churches have adoration on Holy Thursday, many times all night long, keeping Jesus company in prison. They have a very low-key version of that here, and in any case adoration–and the church–close at midnight at the latest. Not too many people participate in this. BUT from the end of Good Friday services until the first Mass on Easter morning (with a break during the Vigil Mass) they have the grave of God. You will NOT find a parish that doesn't do this in the biggest way it can manage. They set up a side altar decorated to remind you some way or another of Calvary and most of the time they will have a life-size statue of Jesus lying dead, surrounded by flowers and a makeshift rock garden. But the main focal point is a rather high pedestal with a monstrance and the Blessed Sacrament exposed. The monstrance is covered in a long white gauzy cloth, like the kind of material you use for curtains. So you can see the host, but through a thin white veil that kind of reminds you of Jesus in His shroud. This adoration time draws good-sized groups of people around the clock from Friday evening to Sunday morning. In the country parishes they get into it even more. There are some parishes I know of (and I think it's a prevailing custom) where in addition to people coming on their own, the parish youth groups arrange that two girls and two boys will be at watch in hour segments. The boys–or also adult men do this too–will dress up either in contemporary military uniforms or in Roman soldier costumes. At one parish, a bunch of teenage girls set up an all-night two-by-two schedule and all of them wore their mothers' wedding gowns. It wasn't too logical but the effect was very nice (at a stretch you could say it reminded you of angels) and I am sure it was an experience they will remember even when they themselves have become grandmothers. There is always a very early Mass on Easter morning–earlier than normal Sunday first Masses. Everyone collects in the church and there is still the Lenten, grave of God atmosphere (even though the Vigil with its bells and alleluia have indeed taken place a few hours before). At the beginning of Mass everyone files out and they have a procession around the church, usually circling it three times before going back in. When you get back in, the statue of Jesus in His tomb has been replaced with the statue of the Risen Jesus (both of these statues are standard for parishes and you only see the one on Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the other only until Pentecost) and there are a lot more flowers and other Eastery decorations. I don't really understand what the procession is supposed to mean in this context. Possibly the main purpose is to give a few parish workers time to switch decorations. But I suppose part of the reason for the procession is that parades are an expression of joy and celebration usually, and a solemn one on a special feast is one more way to honor Our Lord in that feast.

 So those are the three things that came to mind. I could probably think of more bits and pieces but this letter is pretty long already!

 I'm attaching photos I took a couple of years ago at our parish–the basket blessing and the Grave of God. You'll have to imagine the water dumping for yourself. Also I'm tacking on one I took near our university. It doesn't have anything to do with anything but it struck me as a funny sight.

 Hope you and your Mom are doing well!

 love and prayers



Next is the Philippines sent from Tim Brown a classmate of mine from Christendom. 

Dear Peter,

       Since I have a little spare time now I'll see what I can tell you about Holy Week here. To begin with it's amazing to be in a country where the subject is so important! Almost everything comes to a halt, government offices close as do many businesses and almost everyone takes the whole week off. At our parish the priests were warning us on Sunday that if we wanted to go to confession before Good Friday the wisest thing to do is to go during the week before Palm Sunday. The confessional lines are so long during Holy Week it can be a long wait. Our parish will have priests available to hear confessions all day every day this week! Parish life is really different and the things we take for granted in the USA are simply not possible here. One thing is the absence of missalettes. Most parishes are poor and spending what an American parish spends on missalettes, air conditioning, or expensive pipe organs is simply out of the question. Some parishes will use a projection system to project the words of the liturgy or hymns on a screen, but otherwise you simply have to know the words as well as the responses during Mass. 

Listing all the traditional practices for Holy Week would be hard as there are so many. The Philippines has so many different ethnic and tribal groups who speak over 70 different dialects! That makes any attempt to summarize things in a short space almost impossible. But I will try to describe some of the more well known ones. One popular custom is the Visita Iglesia, in which Filipinos will visit seven churches on Holy Thursday. This was inspired by the Roman custom of visiting the seven Roman basilicas. The difference is the Filipinos will meditate on two Stations of the Cross in each church whereas the original Roman tradition was to adore the Blessed Sacrament in each church. 

More hardy souls may journey to the island of Camiguin where life size Stations of the Cross are part of a climb up Mount Vulcan, which can take about two hours if you stop and pray at each station. Good Friday observances can often begin in the early a.m. in keeping with the tradition that Jesus was actually arrested quite late and thus faced his accusers in the very early morning. So many churches will start Good Friday stations quite early often as early as 2 a.m.

Catholicism here cannot be confined to Sundays. It is absolutely woven into Filipino culture.  Beautiful customs include "Pabasa". This is a singing or chanting of the life and Passion of Jesus drawn from the Scriptures. Depending on where you are this is done in a few hours or even longer periods. It is done by a family or groups of families and is sometimes started on Monday of Holy Week. Some will even stay up all night to sing the story of Jesus. 

In a place called Quiapo there is the statue of the "Black Nazarene". This is near Manila.  Filipinos consider it a miraculous statue with healing powers and enormous crowds numbering in the millions will attend the services in its honor. Twice a year, once in January and again during Holy Week the statue is carried by a group of  men on their shoulders through the streets. Devotees will press forward to try and touch the statue which makes for a slow, arduous, and dangerous  journey for those carrying it. 

As in other places most Good Friday liturgies begin at 3 p.m. But unlike other places, people may gather on the morning of Holy Saturday to meditate about the "Sleep of Christ". These prayer services will often be led by priests. Lent may be officially over in many places on Good Friday but for Filipinos Holy Saturday or Black Saturday remains a day of quiet and penance. The Easter Vigil is held around 8 or 9 p.m. However, it is not unusual for the Mass to last almost 2-3 hours and many Filipinos will remain after Mass and prepare for the next ceremony known as "Salubong" which usually is observed around 2 a.m. Salubong is a Tagalog word which means "meeting". This commemorates the meeting between the Risen Jesus and his mother. Men and women will form separate and very quiet processions sometimes under torch light for this ceremony which varies from place to place. Usually the men will carry a statue of Jesus and the women will carry a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The statue of the Virgin will be veiled with a sheet of cloth however. When the two processions meet, someone playing an angel removes the veil to show the Virgin is now rejoicing at the sight of her son. The two processions join into one and continue to the parish church with singing and often a marching band. After Easter Sunday liturgies Filipinos celebrate with feasting on lechon (roast pig) and well, quite a few other dishes such as fish, rice, and fruit. Lechon is not just roast pork but an entire pig! I have to say most Filipino pigs are very skinny compared to American ones. Hopefully, that means the pork is leaner and healthier but I'm not sure about that! Grocery stores will re-open in the afternoon so that everyone can buy their Easter feast. Well, I hope this gives you some idea Pete, it's really a big country here and it's hard to cover all of it.  God bless and take care. My best to you and your Mom, you are both in my prayers every day. 



Next comes Ireland via Mrs. Scheetz’s sister with an add on by Mrs. Scheetz.

 I emailed Mary Tim with your question about Irish Easter Traditions…   I don’t know if it is something you needed to know a few weeks ago when you first asked me… but this is her response..

Most of the Easter customs are also done in other countries. Easter eggs particularly large hollow chocolate eggs with sweets inside are very common. There is the custom of using Easter water.  Many people bring home a bottle of the newly blessed Easter water. It is then used for sick people or animals or the garden. Also the custom of getting up before dawn to see the sun dance would be very Irish.  It is said the sun dances on Easter morning, though that is not as common in post Christian Ireland…  The water and the choc eggs would be the most common exclusively Irish customs now.  God bless  – Happy Easter

I wonder if the “sun dancing” on Easter Sunday morning has anything to do with the Easter Fire that St. Patrick lit on the hill preempting the pagan’s ceremonial fire that had always been lit first on Easter morning.

God bless,


Next comes the Holy Land from the experience that Dr. and Mrs. Carroll had.



The following is taken almost verbatim from the journal I kept on our 1971 trip to the Holy Land:

 HOLY WEEK IN THE HOLY LAND  April 4-11, 1971Palm Sunday:  We took the bus to the Mount of Olives.  The procession began at Bethphage, where Jesus mounted the donkey.  We picked up palm branches and then marveled at the variety of people who were there—every conceivable nationality, all ages, priests and nuns, school children, even hippies.  The procession began with the blessing of the palms by a bishop.  Then a contingent of school children began the actual march—many, many of them walked by us, out the gate, up to the top of the Mount of Olives and down the other side.  Then everyone else filed out, with the bishop and many priests at the end of the procession.  We were fairly near the end, and there must have been thousands of people walking.

 We walked in two rows, roughly single file, singing “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, Filio David,” in honor of Christ our King.  We didn’t follow the exact route of Christ, but it was roughly similar, down the Mount of Olives on a rough rocky road and then up the side of the hill on which Jerusalem stands, through the Lion Gate—also known as St. Stephen’s gate (site of his martyrdom), as church bells heralded our passage.  The procession lasted about an hour and a half and ended just inside the city walls in the courtyard of St. Anne’s Church, where the bishop blessed us with the Eucharistic Christ while we saluted Him with our palms.

 Holy Thursday:  The first event of the afternoon was the Holy Thursday washing of the feet ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The patriarch of Jerusalem enters in a solemn procession and twelve young seminarians take seats in front of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Gospel passage describes the foot washing in John’s Gospel is chanted.  Then the patriarch re-enacts this episode by washing the feet of the 12 young men.  The Pater Noster is recited and then the procession leaves the Basilica.

In the evening we went to the Church of the Flagellation, where the Holy Week liturgies were celebrated for English speaking pilgrims by Franciscans.  Along with about two dozen other people we had the privilege of assisting at the Mass of the Last Supper.  Then we followed one of the Franciscans out through St. Stephen’s Gate, under the full moon of Passover, to an isolated spot in the Garden of Gethsemane.  This spot was not the landscaped area that surrounds the church, but rough and rocky, probably more like the original site.  The priest read to us from St. Luke’s account of the agony; then we all sat in silence meditating.  Then the priest and several others spoke on their meditations.  Finally, Father offered a prayer on behalf of all of us, and we made our way back into the city.

 Good Friday:  We attended the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa, beginning about 11 AM in the courtyard of an Arab school, which is on the site of the Fortress Antonia where Pilate condemned Jesus to death.  There were hundreds of pilgrims there, divided into groups according to language.  At each station, usually marked by a chapel, the priest read a prayer, we prayed Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be, and we sang a verse from Stabat Mater.  Stations 10-14 are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We assisted at the Good Friday Liturgy in the Chapel of the Flagellation, attended by many pilgrims.

 Holy Saturday:  Today we rose early to attend the 6:30 AM Easter vigil service and pontifical High Mass at the Holy Sepulchre.   Apparently the Patriarch of Jerusalem has special permission to celebrate the Easter vigil service early.  The service and the Mass (Latin Novus Ordo) was celebrated at an altar set up in the space in front of the tomb of Jesus.

 We attended the Easter Vigil service at the Church of the Flagellation, climaxed at midnight by the Mass of the Resurrection.

 Easter Sunday:  We had to catch an early plane, so did not attend Easter morning Mass.  But we rose at 5 AM to take a dawn walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and prayed at the site of the meeting of the Risen Christ with Mary Magdalene.


Next we have alumna Maria Verry Coates telling us of her time as a missionary to Honduras.  Maria also has pictures which you can see at:



   “La Semana Santa durante mi mission”   In 2009 I was celebrating La Semana Santa in Honduras, and with each special Mass and service this year I find myself back at our parish church of San Jose Obrero.  We began Holy Week with a mile long procession to remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.  Led by a dozen altar boys and our beloved pastor, Padre Ricardo, we walked around the neighborhood with our large palms, singing and praying.  The church was filled to overflowing, and many of the old ladies waved their palms for the majority of the Mass.   We celebrated Holy Thursday with many of the children at our house.  Rita and Regina read from the Bible and explained what happened on Holy Thursday.  Then Memo washed the feet of each child while I led the singing.  It was a beautiful blend of shyness, joy and singing.    Good Friday was amazing.  It was already blistering hot as we left our casa around 9:30 to the starting point of Via Crucis. With several hundred people we made our way through the streets, climbing to a high point of the city.  Dozens of adults from the church were in costume:  there was Christ, Mary, Roman Soldiers and sorrowful women and the thieves.  As we came to each station, one of the priests read the Scriptures and spoke about the station that we were watching it depicted before us.  The most beautiful moment was the crucifixion.  Christ hung above the whole city as we watched in teas.  It was truly beautiful.   The Easter Vigil was awe inspiring.  The entire band from El Camino (a Catholic movement incredibly popular in Latin America) was there with over a dozen guitars and as many other instruments.  The church was overflowing with people singing and dancing in their seats.  And I loved every minute of the nearly four hour Mass!   What a blessing to have celebrated such an important aspect of my faith in an entirely different culture.  The Catholic Church is universal!  How cool is that?


And now here is alumnus Chuckie Ibay’s .

 Stuck In Holy Land During Holy Week and Easter


Everything that happened to me during my stay in Holy Land during the Holy Week of 2008 and beyond were all unexpected to me, at least that’s what I thought before all of the events started to give light to my connection  to what transpired here almost two thousand years ago.

By God’s Grace, I was selected to compete in the 12th Arthur Rubenstein Master Piano Competition in Tel Aviv March 10 thru  March 21st, 2008.  This means my mother and I will be spending our Holy Week in Holy Land and if I make it to the second round, we will spend also our Easter in Jerusalem.   With the competitions happening during the height of the Holy Week and Easter until the Octave, we have to think how we can fulfill our religious obligations with no Catholic Church around Tel Aviv.   Below is how relevant our experience started to unfold of what happened around that area of Holy Land two thousand years ago.

 All competitors(gladiators) were housed in one hotel floor and were not allowed to wander around Tel Aviv especially during the night until competition is over.   My competition was scheduled on  Holy Thursday in the afternoon.   We asked a security guard(Centurion) where we can attend a Catholic Mass that morning.  He said there’s none close to the hotel but a Nigerian Bishop set up a friend’s residence as a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament so he could say Mass that day.   He gave us the address which is several miles away but my mother cannot walk that far.   We called a taxi so we could visit our Blessed Lord and attend Mass that day before the competition.   The taxi driver wanted to charge us 60 Shekels to go to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (the driver charged us 30 more than Judas to go to Jesus).

The night of my competition, the concert hall(praetorium) was packed, mostly Jewish.   I was directed to sign my name to the registrar(Levite) and pay my dues, cash only.    There are 11 Judges(Pharisees) who will judge us and one Lead Judge(High Priest)  for tie breaker.   After the competition, we were hauled up in the stage to announce who will continue on the second round.   There are plenty of clapping and whistling when a name is announced.   I was one of the first to be eliminated and therefore had to be released(I knew Barabbas was happy at this circumstances, but I am not).   I knew this is it for me and had to go home to America(Galilee) and life goes on.   That night we packed to go home the following day, Good Friday.   There was a snag on our return flight, we can’t go home until after 2 weeks after Easter.   Talk about getting stuck in Holy Land?  During Holy Week and Easter Season?   How blessed can we get.   The following day, the competition director talked to us and learned of our situation.   He offered me to perform at their gala in Elat(near the Red Sea) before the competition finals and that was Easter Sunday.   Since I am not in competition anymore, I selected some of my favorite songs from my previous concerts.  They told me I could perform anything I want so I sang “Fiddler on the Roof”  ( I don’t know if it was a wise choice to sing it here).   I learned from locals here that historically, Herod used this place for his vacation resort.   When I finished singing Fiddler and did a little rock and roll twist on it at the end, it was received with tremendous applause and whistling(I am not sure if it is for me but one big guy with semi-automatic hanging on his shoulder told me, my song really brought the synagogue down).   After the performance,  they drove us back to our hotel only to learn we could not sleep there anymore because our lodging expired and had to book to another hotel on our own.   My mother and I don’t have enough money to stay in a hotel and we don’t have reservation anywhere and we haven’t gone to Mass for Easter Sunday.   It was already 5 pm and we don’t know where to go.  We still have 2 more weeks before we can fly back to USA.   The security guard told us he knew some Franciscan nuns at the Terra Sancta Convent in Jerusalem.   He made a call but there is no available room for us(this sounds familiar of what happened to a couple long ago).    The Jewish Guard drove us anyway to Jerusalem and brought us to the convent.    The nuns took pity on us and gave us a small room for lodging.  It was freezing inside the room and there’s no heat(how much more than the Holy Family endured that night, at least we have roof and warm soup from the sisters).   We told the nuns we haven’t attended the Mass for Easter.   It was already 8 at night.  They brought us to the chapel where  St. John the Baptist was baptized.   The nuns were able to get a priest that night to say the Mass at the chapel.  The following day, Easter Monday, the nuns took us to Bethlehem and introduced us to a priest who was saying the Mass that day.   When the priest heard me sung at the Mass, he invited me to come back the next day so he could bring me to a music school for the blind.   He wanted me to play for them so I could inspire them.   Now, it’s coming into light why I am here, maybe not so much in winning the piano competition,  and why was my flight back delayed for 2 more weeks.   After hearing my playing in the school, a young woman(her name is Nili, blind, 20 years old and serving in the Israeli Military) introduced herself to me and at that time her mother was with her.   The mother told me, she saw me in Israel national TV broadcast during the competition and she said everybody in the family was rooting for me and did not realized she will meet me in person.   The mother told me she will organize a small concert in her house and will invite her friends to hear me play.  The next day Nili and her mother pick us up to drive us around Israel just like we did  together in 2000.  That night,  they drove us to the house of Nili and the house was very small but it was packed with people mostly friends and relatives of Nili.  We sang and played together that night and they were delighted and they told me, for them, I was the winner on the competition no matter what.. (They new I am a catholic and none suggested for me to become  a rabbi, otherwise I will be called “Rabbi Ibay”)  Three days before going back to USA, the family of Nili visited me again and with many shaloms, they bid goodbye and promised to continue our friendship.  (little did we know we will see them again sooner).  One day before flying back to USA, we received a call from the director of the competition committee  inviting us to come back May 5 of that year to play in Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Israel independence.   They chose another musician to play with me, an Israeli young woman who was one of the winner in the competition.   The director, Miss Idit Zivi told me that the US President George Bush and his wife Laura will be in attendance.  I said to myself wow…God must have really planned something for me here.  To make the story much shorter, I came back to Israel again, my new Israeli friend Nili and her family came to visit me in our ho