Pilgrimage is described as “a journey to a holy, special and unusual place.” Some may name places like Jerusalem in Israel, Taize in France, Santiago de Compostela in Spain or Fatima in Portugal where pilgrims normally flock to enrich their faith.
My stay here in Sweden is a faith journey and experiencing how the Church of Sweden celebrates the Holy Week and Easter can, as well, be tantamount to what they define as a pilgrimage.
Holy Week experience here in this part of the globe is not so far from the practices of my church but I see the celebrations as somewhat less-complicated yet meaningful.
Palmsöndagen (Palm Sunday)
Kicking off the weeklong faith journey is Palm Sunday and their way of commemorating the triumphal entry to Jerusalem was special because kids from the Sunday school program marched with their (handcrafted paper) palms during the offertory procession.
What made it special? The kids were raising and waving the paper palms thus, it emitted a festive sound of welcome. The scenario helped me recall how the people of Israel welcomed Jesus riding on a humble donkey as He was on His way to save His people through death on the cross and to manifest His power by rising from the dead.
During that day, I was overjoyed as I also welcomed a fellow member of the Philippine Independent Church who accepted my invitation to attend the service in my host parish. Dr. Yul Quanico, a medical practitioner specializing in Urology, was here in Sweden to attend a conference.
While guiding him through the Mass, I then realized that I have been used to the service in the Swedish Church. He appreciated the hymns and the conduct of the Mass in my host parish (Sankt Mikaels Forsamling – Vårby Gård Kyrka) and I strongly agree with him. Their service is more congregational – a Mass highly-participated by the several people of all ages.
Skärstorsdag (Maundy Thursday)
Like in any journey, a traveler has to take some rest. There were no public services on Holy Monday until Holy Wednesday (for the church workers) so, the pilgrimage continued the next day on Maundy Thursday.
The Eucharistic celebration with slow paced hymns accompanied by organ music was short, plain and solemn.
But after the postlude was played, I was touched and felt emotional watching the altar being stripped and emptied. My longing for Christ even more ignited as candles were extinguished and when the crucifix was covered.
After the service, an empty altar and a covered crucifix were left with dim lights inside church. Such symbols made me realize how is it when Christ is absent in a person’s life. The absence of Christ would signify a life with no beauty and meaning.
Långfredag (Good Friday)
When I arrived in church before the service, I gazed at the wooden cross on the altar with a crown of thorns hanged on it. The surround was a bit dark and only a small candle was lit in front of the cross with some blood-colored roses on the side.
As the short service began, I felt the sad mood conveyed by the opening hymn and throughout the worship, there was an unexplainable grief. Commemorating Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is commonly a heartbreaking and gloomy event in the Liturgical life of any church following Catholic traditions.
Svart Lördag (Black Saturday)
As I came to the Easter Vigil Mass, I thought of how the service would be conducted and how many people would usually come to a midnight gathering, starting at half past eleven.
Soon before the service began, about sixty to seventy people were already inside the church. Near the entrance, people started to gather holding candles and psalm books.
The usual procession going to the church’s interior began the Mass with the Paschal Candle leading the way for the congregation. I recognized the Exsultet (Easter Proclamation), though in a different language, sung by two cantors, the most solemn way to commence the joyful service.
Like what my church does back home on this same day, only the Paschal Candle is lit during the reading of the lessons. There was also the renewal of baptismal vows and the whole congregation held candles until the end of the Mass. In addition to the rites, the priest blessed the congregation with water from the baptismal font.
What struck me most during the service? It was when the empty table was turned into a colorfully adorned altar with the crucifix, numerous tall candles and vividly colored flowers.
Scenes and rituals expressed the joy of Christ’s resurrection including the happy songs which were sung joyfully by the whole congregation, who also felt energized even if the celebration ended at early dawn.
Food is something essential in every journey and I also had the chance to taste what Swedish people usually eat after the Easter Vigil. My host parent was busy preparing the smoked lamb and some bread earlier that day.
Påskdag (Easter Sunday)
After the faith-renewing service, I slept for a few hours and went back to church for the Easter Sunday Mass, the most important of all Sundays in the whole of Christendom.
With a grand choir accompanied by the music of the trumpet, the Mass illustrated the joyful and festive atmosphere in celebration of Christ’s victory over death through His resurrection.
Around eighty people attended the said service and most of them sang the happy hymns by heart and the feel of Easter was all around when the Gloria (Glory) was sung by the church choir. Among the congregational favorites which make the celebration more festive and participative is Per Harling’s “Du är Helig,” used as Sanctus (Holy).
Easter Sunday marked not just the end of my Holy Week Journey but it also signaled the closing stages of my stay here in my first host congregation.
While delivering a message of thanks to the congregation, my weakness in bidding goodbyes rose to life. I almost cried while recalling how the parish has provided me more than a church but a home where I could be a light to others through my songs and music for more than a month.
I share with the parish, the same goal of preparing for the church’s future by educating and involving the kids in church activities. Our churches are threatened by world’s materialism and through the kids; we can together combat the threat.
The parish has inspired me to continue my work in the music ministry and with the kid’s choir I have back home. With everything, Tack så mycket! I will never forget this journey with my first host parish.
For me, the forty days of stay was more than a scheduled exposure program but a pilgrimage of faith, a journey with Christ, a learning experience and a closer look at rainbows in church and in the society.
//Klein F. Emperado is one of the exchange students in the exchange programme ”Young in the World Wide Chuch” 2014. During three months he will be spending time in Sweden, sharing life, faith and every day life. Klein is a Mass Communications graduate from Silliman University, Dumaguete, Philippines and also he works as Editorial Assistant for the said university. In the exchange he represents the Philippine Independent Church/Iglesia Filipina Independiente. His line of ministry is focused mainly on Liturgy and Music for the Diocese of Negros Oriental and Siquijor.
// Klein F. Emperado är en av deltagarna i utbytesprogrammet Ung i den världsvida kyrkan 2014. Under tre månader delar han vardag, tro och liv med människor här i Sverige. Under sin första månad spenderar han tid i St Mikaels församling i Stockholms stift. Klein har tagit examen i masskommunikation vid Silliman University, Dumaguete, Filippinerna och han jobbar idag som redaktörsassistent för nämnda universitet. I utbytesprogrammet representerar han den Filippinska oberoende kyrkan (Iglesia Filipina Independiente). Hans stora intresse och inriktning innom kyrkan är främst liturgi och musik för stiftet i Negros Oriental och Siquijor.