There were hundreds, maybe even a thousand or more, flocked on the streets that evening in Sasmuan, Pampanga. And from that crowd came the cheers “Viva Apo Lucia,” (Long live St. Lucy!) some followed with “Pwera sakit!” (Away with illnesses!) Many were dancing.
It felt almost like a street party. I was reminded of Ati-atihan’s festive cheer and people’s infectious energy there, except that the people here in Sasmuan were holding flowers, not beer bottles. Also, even amid the tight spaces and people occasionally being too close for comfort, the devotees were quite good-natured and friendly.
They were all there to celebrate Kuraldal, the festival in honor of Apo Lucia. Kuraldal comes from the Spanish word “curar,” meaning to heal, and is in essence a celebration of healing. People from different parts of Pampanga, and even from other provinces, come, many to pray and ask for petitions, ranging from healing from illnesses and mending relationships, to succeeding in business ventures, among others. Many also come back to give their thanks after their prayers were answered.
Kuraldal usually starts around the Feast of Epiphany (previously known as the Feast of the Three Kings), which was January 7 this year. Kuraldal is said to be celebrated around this time because of the light from the star that guided the Three Kings to Jesus in Bethlehem, and the patron saint Lucia, or Lucy, means light. There are other Kuraldals celebrated in other parts of Pampanga in honor of their own patron saints, but in Sasmuan it is celebrated around Feast of Epiphany.
Female devotees, in pink-and-white floral dresses and buri hats, dance house-to-house to ask for donations. Kuraldal culminates later with a Mass and the Kuraldal ritual dance on the streets. Here, devotees can also touch and be blessed by the sculpted images of Apo Lucia, Jesus, and Mary. Many also wipe their handkerchiefs to the images to take home the blessing with them.
That night of the ritual dance, our group of travelers, all experiencing Kuraldal for the first time, waded through the sea of people occasionally dotted with yellow flowers. We fell in line to get up the stage to also see Apo Lucia, as well as the dancing crowd below.
While in line and being a bit squashed amid all the still-cheery people, I met Imelda, the person behind me. I learned that she has been coming to the Kuraldal for more than 15 years. Back then, she prayed to get pregnant – another common request in Kuraldal – and her petition was granted. Now, her daughter is in college. She returns to Kuraldal to give thanks. This year, aside from giving thanks, she is also praying for “a long life.”
Getting onstage, I was able to better see and appreciate the cheering and dancing crowd. I also watched as devotee after devotee stop in reverence to images of Apo Lucia, Jesus, and Mary.
Onstage, I briefly met some other devotees. One was Fred, who went with his wife Dina and daughter Nicole. Fred is particularly praying for healing in his family relationships, as well as health for his immediate family, especially for his daughter.
Another devotee I met is requesting for healing, especially for his eye to be spared from disease, as his other eye is already afflicted. He said that Apo Lucia has already answered his prayers in the past. As “Lucia” means light and alludes to sight, I was particularly struck by his request, which I hope will be granted.
Another regular Kuraldal attendee I talked to after we came back from the ritual dance fervently told me that Apo Lucia granted her prayers even after Kuraldal this year. Such is the power of Apo Lucia, she said.
Such is the power of their faith, I would say, and not just of Apo Lucia. Even without words, I felt it amid the crowds’ cheering and dancing, and the way they intently touched Apo Lucia’s image. There was no doubt in my heart – their faith is the real thing.
And, even while I made no request or petition during my first Kuraldal, I was blessed enough being enveloped by all the pilgrims’ faith.
How to get there:
From Metro Manila, take a Balanga-bound bus. There are many buses like this in Cubao, like in Five Star bus station. Get off at Sta. Rita. Ride a jeep going to Guagua town proper, Pampanga. From there, ride another jeep, or tricycle, to Samsuan. The jeepney and tricycle rides take only around 5-10 minutes each, while the bus ride takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Alternatively, from the Balanga-bound bus you can get off at Lubao, where you can ride a tricycle to Agustin Church, then ride again to Sasmuan.