San Fernando (Philippines) (AFP) – Filipino zealots marked Good Friday with a bloody display of religious frenzy by having themselves nailed to crosses and whipping their backs raw in Asia’s bastion of Catholicism.
Though frowned upon by the Church, the gruesome re-enactments of Christ’s final moments draw thousands of believers — and tourists — in a carnival-like atmosphere that is big business for locals.
In a collection of towns north of Manila, eight people had eight-centimetre (three-inch) spikes driven through their palms and feet in hot, dry fields meant to echo the site where Christ was crucified some 2,000 years ago.
Among an otherwise male field of penitents was 39-year-old Mary Jane Sazon, who made her seventh trip up onto the cross.
“Fulfilling my vow is important to me because ever since I started this the Lord answers my prayers,” Sazon told reporters as she pushed her dark hair back with freshly bandaged hands.
She would not be drawn on being the only woman crucified on Friday, saying: “I don’t care what other people might say.”
While the ordeal is undeniably painful, the penitents’ weight rests on a wooden step and they spend only a few moments nailed to the cross before being carried to the medical tent for treatment.
At the same time, scores of bare-chested men, some of whose faces were concealed by hoods, lashed their backs bloody as they walked through the streets before selfie-snapping onlookers.
The swinging of their whips left droplets of blood on cars, houses and even bottles of soda displayed on snack vendors’ tables that lined the road.
“If one of my family members gets sick, this is what we do,” said Norman Lapuot, 25, as he flogged himself with a bamboo-tipped whip. “I do this for my relatives.”
– ‘I felt the pain’ –
Lapuot, who said it was his fourth time taking part in the ceremony, added that he believed the ritual bloodletting had helped his grandfather recover from a stroke.
While a majority of the Philippines’ 80 million Catholics spend Good Friday at church or with family, participants undergo the ordeal to atone for sins or to seek divine intervention.
The gruesome sights left some of the roughly 12,000 in attendance wide-eyed and wincing with vicarious pain.
“The most terrifying was the feet part, when the guy was screaming very loud,” said 28-year-old Juliette Pawinska, referring to when the spikes were driven in during one crucifixion.
“I actually felt the pain that he felt,” added the Polish national, who lives in the Philippines and works as a computer programmer.
The mock crucifixions on Good Friday have been going on for decades despite official disapproval from the nation’s dominant Catholic Church.
“The Church never encourages self-flagellation, much less crucifixion,” Father Roy Bellen, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Manila, told AFP.
“All sacrifices being asked from Catholics during Lent and Holy Week should lead to actions that benefit the poor and the needy,” he added.
Food stalls, cab drivers and even souvenir stands get a boost from the event which draws thousands of visitors every year.
Rose Anne Galang, whose full-time job is as a factory worker, said she pulled in some extra cash selling pork dumplings to hungry tourists.
“It’s my first time, but business was really good,” she added with a smile. “I’ll be back next year.”
The people willing to have themselves nailed to the cross will also likely turn up in 2019.
“Our beloved Jesus Christ has been our inspiration, so every time there is a problem we need to hurt ourselves,” said 57-year-old Ruben Enaje, who has been crucified at the event for 32 consecutive years.