The Viatico Publico - Pasig's stairways to heaven
From the Desk
Easter commonly coincides in the first days of summer. Children stop attending school for two months to have their well-earned vacation. The people and their families head to the nearest resorts in Pansol or Antipolo while some long for the colder climate of Baguio and Tagaytay. Summer is indeed a most awaited part of the year. It is a time to rest and for relaxation. Nestled at the heart of Pasig is a kind of resort for old people that longs for the kind of relaxation that eases not only the body but also the "soul".
National Artist for Literature and acclaimed Filipino dramatist and author, Alejandro Roces once said that the Viatico Publico in Bahay na Tisa in Pasig town is a one-stop-shop for the old people before being admitted to the "pearly gates". But what is a "Viatico Publico"? Viatico comes from two separate Latin Words, "via" and "tecum" which literally translates to "on the way with You." Varied cultures like ours would always regard the state of "death" as a journey to the unknown but kindly world. It is a final journey of some sort that is mysterious enough to be painted both in glorious and sinister ways. In fact, for an old town like ours, the funeral hearse is a procession not of cars but of people wearing either white or black as family and friends would like to accompany their dearly departed on his "final journey" to the cemetery - the earthly resting place for the dead. With all that being said, the Viatico is a "pabaon" the "last food" that needs to be neatly packed for a long journey towards our Divine Creator.
The practice of having a "pabaon" for the dead is not a Catholic Tradition. In fact, it is earlier that our Christian ancestors for it was the Greeks who introduced us to the souls journeying to the Hades. According to this myth, souls are to be met at the banks of the river Styx and to be ferried by Charon. Souls cannot be permitted to cross the river without a passage fee. With this, the Greeks and the Romans who share the same religion would place coins in the eyes or the tongue of the dead or dread being left at the other side of the Styx and compelled to haunt the living. Upon the Christianization of the Roman Empire, this tradition of putting coins were assimilated but bread - as the Body of Christ were placed instead in the mouths of the dying. This in turn became the last rites or the Viatecum.
Sundays after Easter, the Bahay na Tisa hosts the Viatico Publico in contrast to the Viatico Privado (blessings given privately/individually at any given time). The Tech Family who owns Pasig's oldest house for generations would prepare for this and welcome the old people in their home. Net Tech-Mendoza recalls how her parents and other relatives would prepare the altar with six wooden candleholders and the Santo Nino de Pasion prominently enthroned at the center of the Altar with the Crucifix below it. The Pelican painting which is placed at the landing of the stairs would be hanged at the arch of the main door to welcome the old people to the home. Mats and pillows will be placed neatly at the floor for the elderly while the cooking and preparation of the food will begin at the early hours of the morning.
The old people would start arriving late afternoon of Saturday and as soon as all of them are settled, afternoon snacks will be served. Since this is a yearly tradition, most of the elderly knows one another and would usually use this opportunity to catch up with their contemporaries. By 8pm, the Priests from the Pasig Church would arrive to hear out confessions while the members of the Legion of Mary will sing familiar songs to entertain the elderly while everyone is having dinner. Normally, activities would be over by 11pm so that the elderly could have a good night's rest.
Early in the morning of Sunday, a procession from the Church would be organized with the Blesses Sacrament on the way to the Bahay na Tisa for the elderly to have their Holy Communion. Before celebrating the Holy Eucharist, a generous serving of Hot Chocolate and Pandesal will be served for breakfast.
Net remembers her father Dean Carlos Tech tell her that during his youth, there would be close to 100 old people in the house but recently during the time of Monsignor Manuel Gabriel only 20-50 people with their companions would visit the house for the Viatico Publico. Net recalls that food prepared in the Viatico would range from fish, meat or chicken with soup.
The storied lives of the elderly are all worth-telling as there were some who have been star crossed lovers, war veterans and town leaders. During the Viatico Publico, the elderly can tell their stories and recall their youthful and restless days. Lessons and realizations are learned as wisdom comes with age.
The last Viatico Publico was organized during the time of Monsignor Manuel Gabriel.