Living Devotion and Worship: A Case Study of a Religious Pilgrimage in a Casino City in China


Popular Piety is one aspect of the cultural and religious diversity in the praxis of Catholic faith. Catholic processions, pilgrimages, rosaries, novenas, way of the cross, holy medals, scapulars and other contextual customs and rites were coalesced in the standard celebration of the sacraments all over the world before Vatican II.[1] Macau, a former Portuguese colony, embeds the rich value of popular piety inculturated contextually as an expression of religious worship toward God.[2] One typical European Catholic form of popular piety is revealed in an overnight vigil procession of the Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos (The Passion of Our Lord God Jesus) to honor Christ in his agony during Lent. This paper focuses on a case study of a particular religious pilgrimage interweaving the busy streets in Macau, the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord God Jesus,[3] which, I argue, acts as an agent to transform and enliven the secular landscape of the streets of Macau into a temporary sacred space, and demonstrate how a living devotion and worship unites the interethnic, interreligous lived experience of the faithful in a contemporary society.

Historical Origin of the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord

This tradition and ritual dates back to 1857, the period of the Portuguese governance.[4] On the first day of the procession, the Good Lord Jesus statue travels from St. Augustine’s Church to the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady a nine kilometers route (fig. 1, see below). On the second day, the statue travels a longer route—of about twelve kilometers—returning to the St. Augustine Church. This tradition began from a legend that a statue of Jesus knocked on the cathedral door but the sexton did not answer the door, so the statue ended up going to the St. Augustine Church. Victor and Edith Turner see every pilgrimage as having an origin that tends to adhere to a local or regional legend, myth, miraculous event, folklore or literature.[5] The veneration of the statue of the Good Lord Jesus shares the similar origin of a pilgrimage site, a legend of Jesus knocking the door of a church. The cult of the Good Lord Jesus and the processional pilgrimage were believed to be inherited from the Augustinians starting in 1586.[6] The originating date of this particular devotion is unknown. However, it is believed to have taken place throughout the last 160 years of tradition according to a document from the Confraria de Nosso Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos.[7]

This tradition has been kept alive for at least two centuries. The congregation with diverse pilgrims from all over the world marches in silence. Jesus’ passion is contemplated throughout the whole procession accompanied by the Macau Police Brass Band playing solemn funeral-style music (fig.2 ). The bishop, leading the procession with the statue of the Good Lord Jesus under a canopy, joined by clergy, twelve children dressed in white, and each parish representative as torch-bearers and banner-bearers (fig. 3). The procession uses different locations from the city center to create a movable shrine, an altar of the station is set in front of some significant secular and religious buildings, such as the Portuguese Consulate, Macau Governor House, and the Old Macau Court House. In order to keep traffic under control and flowing throughout the city, only seven stations are venerated. The procession takes place as the whole “moving” congregation stops at each station and contemplates the passion of the Lord. A young girl is selected each year to perform the role of Veronica, singing the O Vos Omnes, while the procession stops each time for a shrine of the station (fig.4). The whole congregation responds in Latin, singing Parce Domine with a short refrain Senhor Deus, Misericórdia, in Portuguese. The purple color, which represents Lent, is highly marked by the dresses of the torch-bearer and banner bearer. There are six statue-bearers carrying the icon of Jesus, dressed in pilgrim tunics, and bearing a walking stick. This visual Stations of the Cross transforms the city into a holy site for the Passion of Jesus.

The Impact of the Pilgrimage of the Lived Experience of the Faithful   

Macau, a historical center of hegemonic Catholic Christianity in “Far East,” embraces collective memories not only for its religious history, but also of the praxis tradition of the faithful community. Pilgrimage has the aptitude to fortify religious identity and connect pilgrims with their cultural memory and religious history. Christian pilgrimage can act as a spiritual anchor in secular societal context for pilgrims to search for personal self and spiritual definition.[8] The traditional structure of the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord has remained intact for centuries; this faithful devotion has passed from generation to generation, which serves as a collective identity for Catholic in Macau. Pilgrimage, as defined by Turner, is a liminoid phenomenon that has some of the liminal phase attributes of passage rites.[9] A pilgrim starts from the mundane structure, a familiar place, and proceeds to a place of the sacred. These pilgrims leave the ordinary space and enter a space of sacred. On the way from the profane to the sacred, the pilgrim experiences the social, direct, and egalitarian encounter and fellowship among peoples, which symbolizes both temporary ritual states and certain, more abiding social groups.[10] The Turners name this spontaneously-generated human bonding as communitas. In the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, the communitas of this particular congregation is composed mainly of three main ethnic groups: Chinese, Macanese (descendants from the intermarriage between Portuguese and Chinese) and Filipino. The Chinese are local believers who have absorbed into this Portuguese style of worship; the Macanese are the main group who maintain and pass this particular tradition on from their home town—Portugal’s tradition, while the Filipinos are migrant workers who left their families and children far away in their homeland. In recent years, pilgrims also include overseas tourists and pilgrims from mainland China. This communitas is bound together by the sorrows and the passion of Christ as well as their own lived experiences of hardships and sorrow in real life.

The procession was created not only for a devotional and worship purpose—it also tells of the story of the needs of the people. For instance, the procession was once ceased in 1717 due to the Augustinians who relocated their mission to Goa, but then in the following years, Macau had experienced a great famine and lack of food.[11] The Chinese faithful requested the bishop to restart the procession so that the Good Lord Jesus could protect them from famine. Spiritual and secular dimensions of life are often bound together and the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord manifests the Christian tradition—lex orandi, lex crededi and lex viendias we pray, as we believe, as we live.[12]

This pilgrimage is particularly significant to the Macanese community in Macau. The organizer of this pilgrimage is a Macanese community called Confraria de nosso Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos—a fraternity that is believed to have begun before the nineteenth century.[13] Since the political turnover to China, many Portuguese and Macanese left Macau and sought life in Portugal and other countries. Those who have remained are mostly generations with inter Chinese marriages that have deep roots in Macau. Though generations of Macanese lived in Macau, it is, indeed, very significant for the Macanese to preserve their Catholic faith and practice to their next generation.[14] Young male children are recruited as the confraternity to accompany the statue for procession. Many Macanese Diaspora return to Macau every year to take part in the pilgrimage since they call Macau home. This pilgrimage is crucial to their identity as Macanese Catholic Christians. In current years, the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord has attracted a large amount of mainland Chinese pilgrims. The mainland Chinese need a special visa to come into the special administration of Macau. With the increasing open policy for oversea travels, mainland Chinese Catholic Christians made use of their tourist travel visa to join religious events. In a recent book, The Soul of China: the Return of Religion after Mou, Ian Johnson insightfully argues that after a long period of suppression of religion in China, there is a great awakening and revival for contemporary Chinese to search for spiritual quest in life.[15] Macau, as the closest “religious” city within the mainland territory, became an important religious site for the faithful and pilgrims to seek freedom in their faith practice. This procession serves particularly to fulfill the demanding spiritual quest for the mainlanders.

The procession creates a liminal space for both individual and community to contemplate their lived experiences with the passion of Jesus. This communitas fosters a communal spiritual quest to the transcendence, and integrate the reality of life of the faithful, and to build up a strong Catholic Christian identity.

The Impact of the Pilgrimage to the City  

This physical manifestation of the biblical text of Christ’s passion serves as an evangelization tool not only of the pilgrims but also of the local citizens and tourists who witness the passion of the Lord in a very lived experienced which they might never experience before. Since the procession takes place in the most tourist-populated area, many tourists join the procession on the way; this procession is one of the highlights in the annual festival calendar from the Macau Tourism Department and its website. Since the physical icon of Jesus is approximately two meters tall held up by six statue bearers, pedestrians on the ways can easily spot the icon. The icon has a special role in embodied spiritual experience for the faithful; as argued by Aidan Hart, icons resonate with our innermost being and radiance.[16] It is one of the reasons that Hart posits that when visualizing and mediating on an icon, a spiritual affectivity or the felt knowledge is said to surface. Hart sees icons as a literal representation the saints. In this procession, it is Christ carrying the cross. An icon operates as a function for us to express our love and veneration for them.[17] The movable icon of Jesus has a strong visual effect not only for Christians but also even to non-Christians as suffering and pain can be identified by each one of us in life.

Pilgrims or tourists are invited or attracted by the solemnity of the procession and march in silence. It is surprising in a lot of news reports or tourist blogs of how a procession of several hundred participants can be that quiet and solemn.[18] The congregation parade serves also as an evangelical tool for viewers and non-Christian to know about the life of Christ as this procession resembles a mission of hospitality. As Henri Nouwen describes, “Hospitality. . . . means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”[19] His definition of hospitality resonates with the concept of mission. Mission is about inviting people to enter the loving relationship with Christ, to welcome and create space for people that allows for changes to take place.[20] Since Christ is not widely known in the Asian context, the proclamation of Christ can be creatively carried out through religion events and dialogue in promoting the human community with mutual respect and support of each other particular in time of pain and sufferings.

The procession has also brought sacredness to the city that not only evokes memories of Macau as the City the Name of God, but also to sanctify places that the procession goes through.[21] The sacred place has a power to center community, orienting the members of the congregation or community to the rest of the profane world. The moving communitas creates a flowing sacred place within the city; it is like an imaginable flowing water stream drifting in the inner landscape of Macau, which resembles Jesus as the source of living water. Since the procession takes place in the Historical Center of Macau, there are four particular heritage churches that the congregation passes through; these church architectures serve as the pilgrimage landscape where the pilgrims navigate along the way (fig. 5). The tiny street of Macau becomes part of the religious landscape sanctify by this procession (fig. 6). Catholic faithful, particular the older generation and Macanese community, turn their residential buildings or work places into a sacred site to witness Jesus’ Via Dolorosa to Calvary. Like the people on the way following Jesus on the way to the cross, they mourn and wail with him. The word “station” stems from Latin “station” which means: I stand. Pilgrims or witness stands for the passion of Jesus (fig. 7).


The Procession of the Passion of Our Lord has impacted to all facets of life in Macau. The physical manifestation of this large-scale procession has evoked collective memories annually of the historical legacy of Catholic Christianity. It also enforces local Christians to “stand” for their own faith and identity as followers of Christ. This single procession functions as a mission of hospitality: it invites sojourns, fellow pilgrim, friends of Jesus to enter a loving relationship with Christ. This movable pilgrimage also transforms the inner city into a holy site—the church architecture along the way serves as the landscape where the pilgrims navigate along the way. Religion and culture are inseparable. Paul Tillich sees culture and religion as reconfiguring each other; theology, in his view, should only be seen in dialogue with science, culture and art.[22] Culture, in Macau, is in constant dialogue with religion. Due to the aggressively growing casino business, the local government wants to develop Macau as an international forum not for gambling but for art and culture, a place where East meets West, which has a unique culture of its own. Arthur Chen, an expert in Heritage Studies, understands the cultural heritage of a city as weaving “the historical thread through generations and joins the minds and the wills, the pride and the hopes, the sacrifices and the efforts of her peoples in their journey of life towards destiny.”[23] Catholic Christianity in Macau resembles the identity of religious heritage of the colonial Church, but a new theological implication has to move forward with the decolonized Church, searching for its own meaning of The City of the Name of God in our contemporary epoch.


Chan Marinda Keng-Fan, Ph.D. Candidate

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA


Figure 1. The Statue of Good Lord Jesus

Figure 2. Police Band Playing Music at the Procession

Figure 3. Procession of Our Lord’s Passion, March 5, 2017 Macau

Figure 4. A Girl Acts as Veronica during the Procession

Figure 5. Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady Serves as the Landscape of the Pilgrimage

Figure 6. The Tiny Street of Macau Becomes Part of the Religious Landscape Sanctified by This Procession

Figure 7. The Macanese Community Witnesses the Passion of the Lord on the Way


Sources for Illustration

Figure 1 & 2

Courtesy of Ching Cheng Keong

Figure 3 & 4

Cultural Heritage of Macau. “ Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, God Jesus.” Cultural Heritage of Macau. Accessed November 24, 2017.

Figure 5 & 6

“Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, the God Jesus.” Macau Government Information Bureau. Accessed November 25, 2017.

Figure 7

“The Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, the God Jesus.” Macau Tourism Department. Accessed on November 25, 2017.


[1] Mark R. Francis, Local Worship, Global Church: Popular Religion and the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN, Liturgical Press, 2014), 3.

[2] The city officially named is Ao Men in Cantonese, and Macau is the Portuguese version of Macao, its English written form. Both written form is officially used, but for academic research, Macau is more commonly used, in this paper, I will follow through as Macau.

[3]  In this paper, I will abbreviate the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord God Jesus as the Procession of the Passion of Our Lord.

[4] Jennifer Laing and Warwick Frost, ed., Rituals and Traditional Events in the Modern World (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2015), 93.

[5] Victor Turner and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 23.

[6] Fernando Sales Lopes, “Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos,” Macau Magazine, Government Information Bureau of the Macau Special Administration Region, February 7, 2017,

[7] Ibid. The Confraria de Nosso Senhor Bom Jesus dos Passos is a lay Macanese fraternity group which organizes the annual procession.

[8] Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, xliii.

[9] Ibid., 253-254.

[10] Benjamin C. Ray, “Victor Tuner,” in Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005), 14: 9405.

[11] Fernando Sales Lopes, “Senhor Bom Jeus Dos Passos.”

[12] Lex orandi, lex crededi and lex viendi is a tenet of Catholic liturgical theology. The United States Bishop Conference explains, “The original version of the phrase, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (“that the law of praying establishes the law of believing”), highlighted the understanding that the Church’s teaching (lex credendi) is articulated and made manifest in the celebration of the liturgy and prayer (lex orandi). We understand this to mean that prayer and worship is the first articulation of the faith.” See United States Conference of Catholics Bishops, “ Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Word of God in the Celebration of the Sacraments,” USCCB, accessed November 28, 2017,

[13] Fernando Sales Lopes, “Senhor Bom Jeus Dos Passos.”

[14] Chi Hang Fok, From Monothesim to Polytheism: A Research on the Changing Macanese Religious Belief (Beijing, China: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2009).

[15] Ian Johnson, The Soul of China: the Return of Religion after Mou (New York: Pantheon Books, 2017).

[16] Aidan Hart, “The Sacred in Art and Architecture: Timeless Principles and Contemporary Challenges,” Adian Hart Sacred Icon, accessed December 1, 2017, s

[17] Ibid.

[18] Teledifusão de Macau, “Procession of the Passion of Our Lord,” TDM News, aired February 14, 2016, on Canal Macau.

[19] Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Glasgow: William Collins, 1976), 68-69.

[20] Cathy Ross, “Creating Space: Hospitality as a Metaphor for Mission,” ANVIL 25, no.3 (2008): 167-176, accessed 16 November 2017,

[21] Macau was bestowed the name “the City of the Name of God,” by the King Dom Joao IV of Portugal in 1654: “No City is more loyal than the city of the name of God.” See Cheng-keng Fei, Macao 400 Years (Shanghai, China: Publish House of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, 1996), 103.

[22] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, ed. Robert C. Kimball (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959).

[23] Arthur H Chen, “Macau As Metropolis: Heritage and Preservation Towards the Future,” in Macau: Cultural Dialogue Towards a new Millennium Proceedings of a Symposium, eds. Ieda Siqueira Wiarda and Lucy M Cohen (Blommington IN: Xlibris Corporation, 2004), 131.

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