Filipinos nailed to crosses in bizarre rites

The bizarre annual rite has been rejected by Catholic church leaders.

Updated: Apr 22, 2011, 16:00 PM IST

San Pedro Cutud: Several Filipinos were nailed to wooden crosses on Friday to re-enact Jesus Christ`s suffering in a bizarre annual rite that has been rejected by Catholic church leaders but draws thousands of tourists on Good Friday.

Three labourers appeared calm as stainless steel nails were driven through their palms with hammers before they were set aloft on crosses under a brutal sun for a few minutes in San Juan village in the rice-growing Pampanga province north of Manila.

One of the men shed tears, while hundreds of tourists and residents watched and snapped pictures.

At least 12 other penitents were being crucified in two nearby villages, including in San Pedro Cutud — the main area for the annual tradition on the day Jesus Christ is supposed to have died. Dozens of policemen and medical volunteers were deployed to guard the thousands of visitors, including Western diplomats.

Ahead of the crucifixions, throngs of penitents walked several miles (kilometres) through village streets and beat their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood, sometimes splashing spectators with blood. Some participants opened cuts in the penitents` backs using broken glass to ensure the ritual was sufficiently bloody.

The gory spectacle reflects the Philippines` unique brand of Catholicism, which merges church traditions with folk superstitions. Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life and give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

Ruben Enaje, a 50-year-old sign painter, said he would be nailed Friday for his 25th time since he survived nearly unscathed from a 1985 fall from the top of a three-story building he was painting in nearby Tarlac province. Aside from thanking God, Enaje now prays for more painting jobs.

"Not a bone in my body was broken when I fell from that building," Enaje said. "It was a miracle."

"Now, I`m praying for good health and more clients," Enaje said.

Church leaders in the Philippines, Asia`s largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation, have frowned on the Easter week rituals, saying Filipinos can show their deep faith without hurting themselves.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, based in Iloilo Province, said the crucifixions and self-flagellations are an "imperfect imitation with doubtful theological and social significance”, adding that only Jesus Christ`s death saved mankind.

Pampanga Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the bloody rites reflected the church`s failure to fully educate many Filipinos on the correct Christian tenets.

Enaje and the other penitents said the church should respect their belief.

"When I`m up there on the cross, I feel very close to God," Enaje said. "We grew up with this tradition and nothing can stop us."

Red Cross officials` concern centred on possible health problems like infection, heat stroke, blood loss and even death from the intense beating. They urged devotees to consider other forms of penance, including donating blood.

San Pedro Cutud village leader Remigio dela Cruz said no major health problem has befallen any penitent since the crucifixions began there in the 1950s. He cited precautions, including soaking the four-inch nails in alcohol sometimes for as long as a year then having these sprinkled with holy water before use.

Bureau Report