A province in the Philippines held bloody crucifixions to uphold a local Good Friday tradition despite the objection of the Catholic church.
The religious tradition saw eight people nailed to wooden crosses wearing thorny crowns of twigs as they reenacted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Good Friday is a Christian holiday that commemorates the crucifixion and death of Christ before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The crucifixions, which were held in San Pedro Cutud, Pampanga, are the province’s first display of religious devotion after a three-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the crucifixions, devotees carried heavy crosses on their backs for more than half a mile to the top of a hill. Hundreds of others also walked barefoot and whipped their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks.
Villagers dressed as Roman centurions later hammered 4-inch stainless steel nails through the eight men’s palms and feet. They were then left on the cross under the sun for about 10 minutes.
One of the men was 62-year-old sign painter Ruben Enaje, who has now reportedly participated in the crucifixions a total of 34 times.
“To be honest, I always feel nervous because I could end up dead on the cross,” Enaje told The Associated Press before his crucifixion. “When I’m laid down on the cross, my body begins to feel cold. When my hands are tied, I just close my eyes and tell myself, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’”
While on the cross, Enaje said he prayed to God for the end of the COVID-19 virus and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 62-year-old reportedly chose to devote his life to Christ after surviving what he described as a miracle. Enaje said he survived uninjured after falling from a three-story building in 1985. He then extended the ritual after his loved ones recovered from serious illnesses.
Enaje became a village celebrity known as the “Christ” in the Lenten reenactment of the Way of the Cross.
Wilfredo Salvador, a 66-year-old former fisherman who played the role of Jesus Christ, said he began participating in the crucifixion 15 years ago after suffering a mental breakdown.
“[God] gives me physical strength unlike others who cannot bear it,” said Salvador, according to Digital Journal. “I do this by choice. I thank Him for giving me a second life.”
The bloody tradition draws thousands of devotees and tourists to the Philippines.
This year, organizers said more than 15,000 Filipino and foreign tourists gathered in Cutud and two other nearby villages.
Johnson Gareth, a British tour organizer, reportedly brought 15 tourists from eight countries to watch the crucifixions.
“They like this because there is really nothing like this on earth. It’s less gruesome than people think. They think it’s going to be very macabre or very disgusting but it’s not. It’s done in a very respectful way,” Gareth told The Associated Press, adding that the tourists were “genuinely inspired.”
“For me, it is an exceptional experience and chance to see such a cultural thing, which is unique in the world,” said Milan Dostal, a tourist from the Czech Republic. “I respect it, I’m very open-minded.”
However, church leaders in the country have objected to the crucifixions in the past, noting that devotees can express their devotion by doing charity work instead.
“It’s very clear that the crucifixion of Christ is more than enough to save humanity from sin,” said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ public affairs committee. “If you want your sins to be forgiven, go to confession.”
The health department had also warned participants of getting infections from being whipped and nailed.
Catholic priest Robert Reyes, who is also a human rights activist in the country, said the bloody practice is a reflection of the church’s failure to educate Filipinos regarding Christian tenets, which then prompts many to explore alternative ways of seeking divine help.
“The question is, where were we church people when they started doing this?” Reyes asked. “If we judge them, we’ll just alienate them.”
Reyes suggested that the clergy should immerse themselves in the communities and regularly engage in conversations with the villagers.