MALACCA: The Church of St. Peter in Pengkalan Rama built in 1710, was once again the focal point of traditional and one of a kind Holy Week commemorations laced with Portuguese-Hispanic traits and influences introduced by the Augustinian missionaries way back in 1587.
Entrenched amongst the local Portuguese-Eurasian populace, the commemorations from March 29 to April 5 encompassing Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday was witnessed and participated by crowds of Catholics and non-Christian devotees and pilgrims from all over Malaysia and Singapore.
From as early as the 1850s, the local non-Christian community, Holy Week traditions, processions and rituals particularly on Palm Sunday and Good Friday have been colloquially referred to as Datuk Pikul Balak (Lord Carrying the Cross) and Datuk Mati (Lord is Dead).
The Palm Sunday and Good Friday processions progressed within the church compound and a public road route respectively. The ‘extra’ was an extended 4.2km trek through Jalan Pengkalan Rama, Jalan Munshi Abdullah and Jalan Bukit China for Good Friday’s late evening candlelight procession. Also in the ‘extra mix’ was the staging of the Passion Play according to the Gospel of St. John on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday at Dewan St. Peter which saw capacity attendance.
According to parish priest Fr. Micheal Mannayagam, the play was staged by a 32-strong cast comprising children, youths and seniors. The 80-minute production directed and produced by 67-year-old retired teacher Tony Silva, also served as time for personal reflection and meditation for local Catholics in context with the solemn proceedings of Holy Week, noted Fr. Micheal.
Once again the Irmaos de Igreja (Brothers of the Church in old Portuguese) was in the limelight. Regarded as organiser and custodian of Holy Week processional rituals, procedures and traditions, the church-based fraternity is said to be the oldest all-male church society in the region.
There is also written evidence to suggest the fraternity started off as the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, a Dominican devotional tradition which can be traced back to 1549 with Fr. Gaspar da Cruz as the founder.
There were “more extra joy” for the local fraternity and the Portuguese community members residing mainly at the Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir held a thanksgiving prayer service and lunch fellowship. The event was held at the ruins of the Rosary Chapel (Ermida de Rozario) sited adjacent to the Malacca River along the upper reaches of Jalan Bunga Raya and a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Church.
The ruins sited where once the Church of St. Lawrence was built in 1540, is said to be the venue where the original Irmaos de Igreja was initiated and established. Then, the chapel stood out prominently until destroyed following the Dutch Occupation of Malacca beginning in 1641.
The Easter Sunday late noon celebration by the local community was also to thank the Malacca Museums Corporation (Perzim) for proposing restoration works of the site which would be listed as part of the state’s religious historical attraction.
According to Joseph Sta Maria, the state’s Barisan Nasional social services unit, the local community particularly the 35-strong member Irmaos de Igreja, deemed the corporation’s restoration and conservation works’ proposal as a “wonderful Easter gift” coming in the wake of the ruins further crumble and neglect.