Extreme Easter: Flogging, crucifixions in Philippines

Agence France-Presse
Extreme Easter: Flogging, crucifixions in Philippines
A Philippine Christian devotee is lowered from a cross after being nailed during a reenactment of the Crucifixion of Christ during Good Friday ahead of Easter in San Juan, Pampanga, on April 19, 2019. Hundreds of barefoot men beat themselves with flails and at least 10 were to be nailed onto crosses throughout Good Friday in a blood-soaked worship display in the Philippines, Asia's Catholic outpost.
AFP / Noel Celis

SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga — A man was nailed to a cross with up to 10 more to follow while barefoot men beat themselves with flails on Good Friday, in a blood-soaked display of religious fervor in the Philippines.

Frowned upon by the Church, the ritual crucifixions and self-flagellation in the north of the country are extreme affirmations of faith performed every Easter in Asia's Catholic outpost.

Wilfredo Salvador stared at the sky and appeared to mumble a prayer after the slight 62-year-old with wild grey hair and a long beard became the first local zealot this year to hang from a wooden cross.

"I will not stop this for as long as I am alive, because this is what gives me life," said Salvador, a fisherman who has been volunteering to be crucified for 14 straight years since recovering from a nervous breakdown.

Assistants costumed as Roman centurions drove eight-centimeter (three-inch) spikes through each of his hands and feet before the wooden cross was raised briefly for the crowds to see.

He was treated and bandaged at a first aid tent after the village square ritual—then nonchalantly walked back home.

Nine other men and a woman were set to be nailed to wooden crosses in three other villages in the region within the day, the local tourism office told reporters.

Christian devotees whip their backs with bamboo strips on a street in San Juan, Pampanga on April 19, 2019, during the reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. Hundreds of barefoot men beat themselves with flails and at least 10 were to be nailed onto crosses throughout Good Friday in a blood-soaked worship display in the Philippines, Asia's Catholic outpost. AFP/Noel Celis

Earlier Friday, hundreds of barefoot men wearing crowns of twigs and black shrouds walked silently on the side of a village road in the scorching tropical heat, flogging their backs with bamboo strips tied to a length of rope.

While many of the 80 million Filipino Catholics spend Good Friday at church or with family, others go to these extreme lengths to atone for sins or seek divine intervention in a spectacle that has become a major tourist attraction.

"This is a religious vow. I will do this every year for as long as I am able," 38-year-old truck driver Resty David, who has been self-flagellating for half his life, told AFP.

He said he also hoped it would convince God to cure his cancer-stricken brother.

Blood and sweat soaked through the penitents' pants with some spectators grimacing with each strike of the lash.

Some hid behind their companions to avoid the splatter of gore and ripped flesh.

Many in the crowds had driven for hours to witness the crucifixions—the frenzied climax of the day's gory spectacle that Catholics say is a re-enactment the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

German tourist Annika Ehlers, 24, was among them.

"I'm a little bit overwhelmed. It's very intense, I haven't expected something like this," she told AFP after watching Salvador's crucifixion. 

The bloody spectacle has played out every year in villages around the city of San Fernando, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) north of Manila, despite Church entreaties to spend Lent in quiet prayer and reflection.

"The crucifixion and death of Jesus are more than enough to redeem humanity from the effects of sins. They are once in a lifetime events that need not be repeated," Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines official Father Jerome Secillano said.

"Holy Week... is not the time to showcase man's propensity for entertainment and Pharisaical tendencies," he added.

Nearly 80 percent of people in the Philippines are Catholic, a legacy of the nation's 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that ended at the turn of the 20th century.

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