As many Christians around the world are solemnly marking today the crucifixion of Christ on the cross, Roman Catholic worshipers in the Philippines are engaging in a controversial reenactment event where they are nailing themselves to crosses in a fervent display of devotion.
The reenactments have become an annual event in the 75-million strong Catholic nation and take place every Good Friday, though they are frowned upon by the Vatican, AFP reported. The devotees have real nails driven through their palms and feet, are strapped to large wooden crosses and raised up before the eyes of curious onlookers and participants dressed in Roman soldier costumes, trying to recreate the scene of Christ's crucifixion as closely as they can.
"This is a vow I had made to God so that He will spare my family from sickness," said faith healer Arturo Bating, who was risen up on one of the crosses in a display that lasted seven minutes.
"It was a bit painful, but bearable," he added, saying that he will take part in the ritual every year.
The demonstrations took place outside San Fernando in the north, and more than 20 participants, including one woman, volunteered to be nailed to the crosses. The practice is seen as dangerous as people can be badly injured by accident, and one of the devotees needed to be rushed off to an ambulance after his feet were nailed and he lost a large amount of blood.
"Priests often tell us that we should not be doing this," Melvin Pangilinan, one of the organizers, told Reuters. "But, it has been our tradition for decades and we have to honour it."
Another worshipper, Alex Laranang, said he has participated in the re-enactments for the past 12 years.
"I had made a vow to do this every year until I die. I do not expect anything in return. I do this for my God," the 57-year-old Laranang said.
While the church does not support such extreme demonstrations of devotion, it stops short of condemning the practice.
"We do not judge and condemn, but we discourage it," said Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
The Good Friday reenactments are not the only intense show of devotion in the Philippines – on Thursday and Friday, dozens of barefoot Catholics in black hoods whipped their own bare backs bloody with strips of bamboo as they went around neighborhoods in San Fernando, serving as penitence of their sins.
In the holy city of Jerusalem, Christians commemorated Good Friday through prayers and processions, while believers in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, Christ's birthplace, carried olivewood crosses and reenacted Jesus' Stations of the Cross, or the final hours where Jesus carried the cross on His way to be crucified.
Video of Philippines crucifixion re-enactments [WARNING: Graphic content].