Devotees re-enact Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday

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.

PAMPANGA. In this file photo taken in March 2013, penitent Ruben Enaje is nailed to a wooden cross at the main Golgotha in Barangay San Pedro Cutud, City of San Fernando on Good Friday. Enage and other devotees participate in this annual rite which draws a crowd of onlookers. Church leaders and health officials have spoken against the practice. (Sunstar File Photo/Chris Navarro)


Critics said the event has become commercialized due to the numerous vendors and peddlers that built stalls near the crucifixion sites. But to the people involved in it and to the spectators, the annual observance is sacred.

"What the penitents are doing are indeed an extreme act of sacrifice," said 44-year-old Ronald Ordullo, who witnessed the crucifixions for the first time.

Some foreigners described the reenactment of Jesus Christ's suffering as a unique spectacle of religious devotion.

James Wright, a retired teacher, said it was his first time to watch the crucifixion rites here.

Wright travelled all the way from Texas, USA, along with his friends, to witness the Kapampangan's way of observing the Holy Week.

"I've experienced to celebrate Holy Week in other parts of the world. But this kind of crucifixion and flagellation is unique to others," he said.

Canadian George Philips, 55, said he also wanted to see the rites that he only sees on television.

"I wanted to see it personally because there is nothing like this in the world," Philips said.

Ching Pangilinan, city tourism officer, said the spectators that witnessed the annual event was estimated at around 40,000.

Senior Supt. Marlon Madrid of the Pampanga Police Office (PPO) said there were no untoward incidents during the rites, except for heavy vehicle and foot traffic.


Archbishop Socrates Villages, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, discouraged the crucifixions.

“If what you do makes you love others more, then it is pleasing to God,” he said. “But when you do bloody rituals just to be photographed and become popular, that is spiritual vanity.”

The health department also discouraged the practice because of health risks.

Health Undersecretary Eric Tayag urged devotees to get anti-tetanus shots. Devotees undergo the hardships in the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God. (PNA/AP/Sunnex)

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