Thousands of Filipinos lined up across a football field in Manila to mark the start of Lent by forming a human cross they hoped would go down as the world’s biggest. Officials at the University of Santo Tomas, a Catholic university that at 400 years old is the nation’s oldest, said the Ash Wednesday event was also a proclamation of the school’s stand against abortion and a controversial bill on reproductive health currently being debated.
More than 20,000 people, including students, faculty members and university personnel, the students wearing black t-shirts or white school uniforms, stood side by side to form a two-colored Dominican cross while prayers were recited and songs sung.
“Forming this biggest cross will make people remember that the Lenten season is all about Christ,” said speech pathology student Erika Claire Gomez. Information about the cross will be sent to Guinness for verification.
In Catholic churches around the country, Filipinos — around 80 percent of whom are Catholic — observed Ash Wednesday by attending Mass and having a cross drawn on their foreheads with ashes. Many will fast or make other sacrifices for the 40-day Lenten period. On Tuesday, lawmakers opened debate on a reproductive health bill that seeks to improve access to information on contraception but faces strong opposition from the country’s influential Roman Catholic bishops.