SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA (Updated) -- Devotees in San Pedro Cutud village here had themselves nailed to a wooden cross to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as thousands of local and foreign spectators watch the bloody annual rites to mark Good Friday in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation.
Church leaders and health officials have spoken against the practice which mixes Roman Catholic devotion with folk belief, but the annual rites continue to draw participants and huge crowds, particularly in northern Pampanga province.
Thousands of spectators, unmindful of the scorching heat, trooped to a man-made Calvary hill in Barangay San Pedro Cutud and in the villages of San Juan and Sta. Lucia to personally watch the "magdarame" (flagellants) whipping themselves and men getting nailed on the wooden crosses, an annual ritual which has been observed in the province for 53 years.
This time, 22 men were nailed to crosses in the crucifixion sites while throngs of flagellants walked several kilometers through village streets and beat their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks called "burilyos" and pieces of wood.
Sign painter Ruben Enaje, 53, had himself nailed to a cross at a dusty mound in San Pedro Cutud village for the 28th year. He began his yearly rite after surviving a fall from a building. Men dressed as Roman soldiers hammered stainless steel nails into his palms and feet. A packed crowd of onlookers stood with cameras ready to capture the penitents' agony.
Lasse Spang Olsen, a 48-year-old filmmaker from Denmark, joined Enaje and eight other Filipino devotees and had his hands and feet nailed to the cross. He said two years ago he made a film about Enaje's yearly crucifixion and decided to have himself crucified after he fell sick twice. He had a small camera attached to his cross while a colleague filmed his experience.
"It's a personal matter between me and (God)," Olsen said, with his finger pointing up.
After being helped down from the cross, he said of his experience: "Fantastic, you should try it."
The other penitents were crucified in two other sites in Barangays Sta. Lucia and San Juan.
Although many of these penitents have gone through this ordeal a number of times, they still screamed in pain as villagers dressed as Roman centurions hammered four-inch stainless steel nails through their palms and set them aloft on the cross under a blistering heat for a few minutes.
After crucifixion, each of the penitents was taken to a medical tent to have his wounds bandaged.