At least 16 Filipinos were nailed to crosses on Good Friday in an extreme show of devotion that drew thousands of tourists to the northern Philippines. The Catholic Church decries the 60-year-old annual ritual as a form of folk religion.
The crucified devotees spent several minutes on the cross while thousands of tourists watched the spectacle in Cutud and neighboring villages in Pampanga province, about 50 miles north of the capital, The Associated Press reported. They had 5-inch stainless steel nails driven into their hands before they were hanged on wooden crosses.
They believe such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses, or give thanks to God – which the Catholic Church denounces.
"We do this because of our faith not because we're paid," Reuters quoted Ruben Inaje, a house painter who has played the role of Christ for 27 years, as saying. "Two years ago, I said it would be the last time I'd do it. But every time I say that, my wife gets sick. I guess God wants me to continue this sacrifice as a lifetime vow."
The tourists created a circus-like atmosphere. "It's my first time to witness a man being crucified," Charlotte Johansen, a Norwegian non-government organization worker, was quoted as saying. She was taking pictures with her friends.
Earlier during the day, hooded male penitents marched through villages while flagellating themselves with makeshift whips. Two men and a woman separately carried wooden crosses to dramatize Christ's sacrifice.
The ritual started in the province about six decades ago as a form of religious vow by poor people seeking forgiveness, a cure for illness and the fulfillment of other wishes.
Catholic bishops of the nation with Asia's largest Christian population had warned the faithful against resorting to extreme forms of sacrifice, but their calls were not heeded. The government said it cannot stop devotees from crucifying and whipping themselves.
"We are in no position to suppress them," Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David stated. "I do not think it is right to close our doors to them just because they are more attracted to these folk practices than to our Roman liturgy which they may find too foreign or cerebral."
According to Catholic Herald, Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, president of the Philippine Bishops' Conference, said that the real spirit of the observance of the Holy Week is "conversion of oneself. Let us concentrate more on the prayers. These are the wonderful ways of celebrating the Holy Week."
Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, chairman of the bishops' commission on youth, said there are "other forms of sacrifice and suffering that would lead to real conversion." "The Lord appreciates all these forms of sacrifices, but sometimes the kind of sacrifice that we impose on ourselves is not what the Lord wants us to do," he said.