Christians congregated in the town of San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, this Friday to crucify volunteer devotees participating in an annual reenactment of the death of Jesus according to the Gospels. Christians in the Philippines also observe Good Friday with floggings and processions.
The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country; over 90 percent of the nation identifies as some denomination of Christian, and 83 percent of the nation identifies as Catholic. Good Friday is the last Friday before Easter, which marks the end of the season of Lent. Catholics around the world observe the day with the Stations of the Cross, a 14-step reenactment of Jesus’s crucifixion.
In the Philippines, however, individuals volunteer to be crucified as a means of experience the pain that the faithful believe Jesus suffered for the salvation of humanity, despite being one with God.
The Philippine Star reports that the town of Cutud, north of Manila, hosted thousands of believers this Friday to watch “at least eight men” – and at least one woman, who Reuters reports has experienced crucifixion seven times – be nailed to crosses by men dressed as Roman soldiers.
Among the crucified, the most experienced was Ruben Enaje, 58, who Reuters reports experienced his 32nd crucifixion on Friday.
“In the past, I went home injured and limping, but this year I feel so great,” he told Reuters. “I feel like he [Jesus] is telling me ‘go ahead, keep it up.'”
The town’s mayor, Edwin Santiago, told the Star that an estimated 50,000 people congregated to watch the crucifixions this year. He insisted that the town does not commodify the event as a tourist attraction, but does “provide assistance” to travelers who visit for the purposes of watching the ritual, including security and first aid.
“We don’t promote it as a festival but it’s rather a show of respect to a local tradition,” Santiago said.
The Star notes that the Philippine Catholic Church “frowns upon” the ritual, and in particular merchants who take advantage of the event to “peddle food, water, fans, umbrellas and souvenirs and rent out parking slots and toilets.” ABS-CBN, another Philippine news outlet, describes a “carnival-like atmosphere that is big business for locals” at the event.
The Archdiocese of Manila issued a statement to the Agence-France Presse emphasizing that “church never encourages self-flagellation, much less crucifixion.”
The Star adds that only locals are allowed the participate:
Foreigners have been banned from taking part since an Australian comic was nailed to a cross under a false name a few years ago near Pampanga. Authorities also believe that a Japanese man sought to be crucified as part of a porn film in 1996.
In addition to the crucifixions, shirtless men engage in the procession while flogging themselves, typically with bamboo and sometimes after cutting themselves with blades. “They left droplets of blood on cars, houses and even bottles of soda displayed on snack vendors’ tables that lined the road,” ABS-CBN reports.
More traditional observances of the day occur throughout the rest of the country. In Manila, believers carry images of Jesus through a procession in worship. In Bulacan province, the Philippine Inquirer reports, artists sculpt Christian icons. “In Bulacan province, devotees in Baliuag town have produced 118 statues and scenes, according to the last count of Msgr. Andy Valera, head of the St. Augustine Parish founded in 1732,” the newspaper notes.
In the Philippines, life-sized icons of Christian figures are known as pasos. In an interview with the Philippine outlet Rappler, two paso sculptors say they have a religious obligation to carve these images. Gregorio “Gerry” Vibar tells the outlet that the Holy Spirit has helped him figure out how to sculpt certain images in his dream. He works with his son, Gregorio “Greg” Vibar, Jr., who insists that the images must wear simple clothes and not be ostentatious.
“These are simple people chosen by God. A halo is enough to signify that they are saints,” Greg told the outlet in an interview.