Hundreds of Catholics made the annual pilgrimage up the highest point of Saipan as part of the Good Friday tradition and were blessed with beautiful weather that broke a three-year streak of unforgiving rain and muddy trails.
The weather held true this year for the hundreds of Catholic devotees who made the trek up Mt. Tapochau, with those who made it to the top greeted by sunshine and a cool, constant breeze.
The trek started later than usual last Friday, with the 30-foot cross that was supposed to be carried and planted at the top of Mt. Tapochau arriving at the base of the mountain around 6am. The cross is usually carried up the mountain on the shoulders of devotees. Some view it as a form of atonement; others as a religious obligation.
Devotees started gathering at the base as early as 4am last Friday to welcome the cross.
The trek started around 6:15am, with about 30 to 35 men taking turns to carry the enormous cross up Mt. Tapochau.
According to one devotee, he has never missed a single Good Friday trek and always helped carry the cross and mount it at the peak of Mt. Tapochau.
“I have been doing this for years…this is all I can offer as my way of apologizing for my wrongdoings throughout the year,” he said.
Rep. Jose Itibus said he participates in the trek and helps carry the cross because it is always a new experience.
Itibus said he has been doing this for so long that it has already become a custom not just for himself, but also for the entire CNMI community.
“I do it as one of my obligations during Lenten season,” he said.
The road going up the mountain was lined in places with groups that handed out free food, water, or coffee. Some handed out fruits.
Every year, a selected parish on Saipan is given the opportunity to organize the Good Friday trek. This year, the role was given to the San Antonio Parish.
According to San Antonio Parish’s Fr. Romil Aperocho, the event is hosted to participate a bit in the suffering of that Jesus Christ went through thousands of years ago and to thank him for the salvation that his death brought.
“This is our way here on the island of showing as a people of always trusting in His protection,” he said.
Aperocho said it that it is deeply rooted in Catholicism to commemorate Christ’s death every year during Holy Week.
“This is like sharing a little bit of the suffering with Him that he had for our salvation,” he said.
Aperocho said its always amazing to see the community come together, once a year, and make the trek.
San Antonio Parish decided to raise the trek up a notch by posting, for the first time, 14 prayer stations for devotees who either couldn’t keep up with the speed of the cross, or who couldn’t make the entire journey up the mountain.
“We planted 14 prayer stations for slow walkers so that they can pray…so that people will not just be walking up here for no reason at all, just because everybody walks but because they have a purpose,” he said.