[A Filipino penitent is nailed to the cross during Good Friday rituals on Friday, March 29, 2013 at Cutud, Pampanga province, northern Philippines. Several Filipino devotees had themselves nailed to crosses Friday to remember Jesus Christ’s suffering and death, an annual rite rejected by church leaders in this predominantly Roman Catholic country. AP Photo/Aaron Favila]

SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA APRIL 1, 2013 (INQUIRER) Catholic zealots in the Philippines re-enacted the last hours of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, whipping their backs and nailing themselves to crosses in a grisly Easter ritual that persists despite Church disapproval.

Foreign and local tourists flocked to the outskirts of the city of San Fernando, a 90-minute drive from Manila, to see the annual spectacle where a Christian “passion play” is taken to its blood-soaked extreme.

In a vacant plot of land beneath the burning sun in the San Juan district, long nails were driven through the hands and feet of four men who took turns hanging on a cross as attendants prayed for them.

BLOODY RITUAL Filipino penitent Ruben Enaje, center, who has portrayed as Jesus Christ for 27 times, is nailed on the cross as he leads others in a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during Good Friday rituals in Cutud, Pampanga province. AP

Elsewhere in the city, hooded men lashed their bloody backs with cloth and bamboo whips, doing penance for their sins while spraying onlookers with flecks of blood.

Devotees commit to undergo the mock crucifixion in exchange for a gift from God such as the healing of a sick loved one.

“I am used to it already,” said Alex Laranang, 58, who was nailed up for the 14th time.

Laranang, a short, sunburnt man who sells baked buns to bus passengers, said: “It is just like a needle going through my hand. After two days, I am ready to go back to work again.”

So far, he told AFP, his suffering has been rewarded as his wife and children enjoy good health and he continues to make a good living.

“I am doing this for my family, so that no one will get sick and that my livelihood will continue. I am just a poor man. But I don’t ask God to make me rich,” he said.

He and the three other men grimaced as the nails were pounded into their hands, but they fixed their eyes on the sky and appeared to be in a trance as they each hung on the cross for up to 10 minutes.

After they were taken down, the men hobbled off to a medical tent as Western tourists snapped pictures.

Men in other districts of San Fernando were scheduled to go through the ordeal later Friday in a demonstration of the deep religious fervour in the Philippines, which has Asia’s largest Roman Catholic population.

Norwegian Charlotte Johanssen, 26, a Manila resident who was among the crowd of onlookers, said some of her visiting friends had found the sight too much to take.

“I have friends who felt sick to their stomachs and who got nauseated,” said Johanssen, who works for an aid group in the Philippine capital.

“There are those who get amazed. You can’t imagine how anyone can subject themselves to this kind of pain,” she said.

The mock crucifixions have been going on for decades despite official disapproval from the Philippines’ Catholic bishops.

“The bishops have been saying for a long time they disapprove of this. But people make such vows. They sacrifice themselves for others,” said Father Francis Lucas, executive director of the Philippine bishops’ media office.

“We have so many crosses to bear in life. We don’t need to bear a real one,” he told AFP.

The Philippines, a former Spanish colony, is home to more than 80 million Catholics and the Church wields strong influence, ensuring that divorce and abortion remain illegal.

Some Filipinos were disappointed that Manila-born Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle missed out this month when Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen at a Vatican papal conclave to succeed Benedict XVI, becoming Pope Francis.


For 27th time, laborer leads Cutud crucifixion By Ric Sapnu (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 31, 2013 - 12:00am

Precy Valencia is nailed to a wooden cross in Paombong, Bulacan. ERNIE PEÑAREDONDO

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga, Philippines — Every Good Friday for the past 27 years, house painter Ruben Enaje has offered himself to be crucified as an act of penitential thanksgiving.

Enaje, who played Jesus Christ in the annual Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), was crucified at around 2 p.m. on a very hot Good Friday in Barangay Cutud here, witnessed by about 50,000 locals and tourists, as well as national and international media.

Fifteen other penitents were also nailed to crosses, four of them in nearby Barangay Sta. Lucia and five others in Barangay San Juan.

Thousands of penitents, called “magdarame” or flagellants, roamed the streets on Good Friday, carrying wooden crosses and whipping their backs with bamboo lashes called “burilyos.”

In Tarlac City, a certain Romeo de Leon was reportedly found dead in his room after performing self-flagellation, a traditional penitential practice among Filipinos during the Holy Week.

The Tarlac police said initial reports indicated it was the first time De Leon performed the penitential act for his ailing mother.

The victim was reported to have started self-flagellation on Maundy Thursday. He was found unconscious and later died.

The crucifixions were held in three makeshift “Calvary” sites in Barangays San Pedro Cutud, Sta. Lucia and San Juan, all in Pampanga.

There were also crucifixions in the nearby province of Bulacan, where flagellants also joined in the annual ritual.

Seven people, including a woman, participated in the crucifixion while hundreds roamed the streets of Paombong town on Good Friday, beating themselves with bamboo sticks under the hot afternoon sun.

Four were crucified at Barangay Kapitangan in Paombong along with a lone female, Precy Valencia, a self-proclaimed faith healer, while three others completed their continuing vow of reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at Santisima Trinidad Church in Barangay Barihan in the provincial capital Malolos City.

Marnie Castro, co-chairman of the “Maleldo” (Holy Week) committee in Pampanga, said more than 2,000 flagellants participated in the Via Crucis that started at about 9 a.m. on Friday.

Penitents, most of them covering their faces with black cloths or masks to hide their identities, walked several kilometers through village streets beating their backs with “burilyos.”

San Fernando police chief Superintendent Ricardo David reported that aside from some minor incidents of theft, the event was orderly and peaceful.

Pampanga’s Via Crucis has been practiced every year since 1955. As for Enaje, he intends to be here again next Holy Week and for as long as he can, as his way of thanking God for saving his life after he fell from a scaffolding many years ago. – With Dino Balabo, Ding Cervantes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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