CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- About 30,000 local and foreign tourists are expected to join the city’s staging of “Via Crusis” (Way of the Cross) in celebration of the Lenten season on April 1 and 2.

Other towns in Pampanga like Bacolor and Lubao are also foreseeing a large number of Catholic devotees and visitors following last year’s successful revelry making the province a tourist destination, officials said.

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Marni Castro, Maleldo executive committee chairman and a candidate for councilor said Tuesday the city foresees a lot of visitors this year to celebrate the lent. Maleldo will be observed in Barangays San Pedro Cutud, Sta. Lucia, and San Juan.

Via Crusis would highlight the city’s “Maleldo” or Holy Week rites participated by hundreds of flagellants and 25 individuals portraying as Jesus Christ to re-enact the passion of the Christ using a Kapampangan originally written piece by Ricardo Navarro 55 years ago.

The processions include devotees who self-flagellate and sometimes even have themselves nailed to crosses as expressions of penance.

The Via Crusis became part of the tradition of “panata” (vow of sacrifice) of the predominantly Catholic population of the city and nearby towns.

This year, Ruben Enaje, who has been portraying the role of Christ, would again take on the cross and undergo the actual nailing.

Castro, together with Councilor Jimmy Lazatin, said extra preparations have been made to ensure the safety, security and order of the tourists and participants who would troop to the three sites of re-enactment, particularly that in San Pedro Cutud, the center of Maleldo observance.

“We have provided some five hectares of parking, free portalets and garbage chutes. Our ‘burol’ or man-made hills are already landscaped. Traffic will be re-routed and managed on that day, health and emergency teams will be posted as well as hundreds of police officers would be deployed,” Castro said.

City Police Director Marcelo Dayag said some 200 uniformed police officers would be deployed to secure the area and maintain peace and order. He said aside from the policemen, K-9 units would be deployed to avert any possibility of a terrorist attack.

City Health Officer Eloisa Aquino said three medical teams would be stationed at each site manned by a total of 60 health personnel and would be complemented by one roving team.

Aquino added that this year, the City Health Office will sanitize the blades to be used by the flagellants to ensure safety against probable infections.

Lazatin said: “strictly no foreigner would be allowed to join the flagellants in their acts due to an incident last year where an alleged drunk foreign tourist mocked the observance as he attempted to have himself crucified.”

Bacolor, meanwhile, claimed to be a potent substitute to the historical and media-soaked Barangay Cutud’s Maledlo in the City of San Fernando.

Approximately 300 participants joined Bacolor’s Via Crusis in 2009. (Jovi T. De Leon/Sun.Star Pampanga/Sunnex)