Filipinos mark Easter with crucifixions

2013-03-29 15:00
A Filipino penitent shouts as his hands and feet are nailed to the cross during Good Friday rituals. (Aaron Favila, AP)

A Filipino penitent shouts as his hands and feet are nailed to the cross during Good Friday rituals. (Aaron Favila, AP)

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San Fernando - Catholic zealots in the Philippines re-enacted the last hours of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, whipping their backs and nailing themselves to crosses in a grisly Easter ritual that persists despite Church disapproval.

Foreign and local tourists flocked to the outskirts of the city of San Fernando, a 90-minute drive from Manila, to see the annual spectacle where a Christian "passion play" is taken to its blood-soaked extreme.

At least 18 men had nails driven through their hands and were hung up on crosses under the hot sun in vacant plots around the city.

Elsewhere hooded men lashed their bloody backs with cloth and bamboo whips, doing penance for their sins while spraying onlookers with flecks of blood.

Devotees commit to undergo the mock crucifixion in exchange for a gift from God such as the healing of a sick loved one.

"I am used to it already," said Alex Laranang, aged 58, who was nailed up for the 14th time.

Suffering rewarded

Laranang, a short, sunburnt man who sells baked buns to bus passengers, said: "It is just like a needle going through my hand. After two days, I am ready to go back to work again."

So far, he said, his suffering has been rewarded as his wife and children enjoy good health and he continues to make a decent living.

"I am doing this for my family, so that no one will get sick and that my livelihood will continue. I am just a poor man. But I don't ask God to make me rich," he said.

At least two of the men hung on crosses had to be carried away on stretchers after being taken down, but most managed to walk to a medical tent for treatment as Western tourists snapped pictures.

Norwegian Charlotte Johanssen, aged 26, a Manila resident who was among the crowd of onlookers, said some of her visiting friends had found the sight too much to take.

"I have friends who felt sick to their stomachs and who got nauseated," said Johanssen, who works for an aid group in the
Philippine capital.

No need to bear cross

"There are those who get amazed. You can't imagine how anyone can subject themselves to this kind of pain," she said.

The mock crucifixions have been going on for decades despite official disapproval from the Philippines' Catholic bishops.

"The bishops have been saying for a long time they disapprove of this. But people make such vows. They sacrifice themselves for others," said Father Francis Lucas, executive director of the Philippine bishops' media office.

"We have so many crosses to bear in life. We don't need to bear a real one," he said.

He also warned against efforts to use the event to boost tourism, saying: "That is really wrong".

San Fernando City conveniently listed the locations and schedules for the mock crucifixions on its tourism website, complete with a map so visitors could follow the action.

Attack

The Philippines, a former Spanish colony, is home to more than 80 million Catholics and the Church wields strong influence, ensuring that divorce and abortion remain illegal.

Some Filipinos were disappointed that Manila archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle missed out this month when Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen at a Vatican papal conclave to succeed Benedict XVI, becoming Pope Francis.

On the southern island of Mindanao a Good Friday religious procession dissolved into panic when communist rebels attacked security forces guarding the event, killing two village militiaman, police said.

Read more on:    philippines  |  religion
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