Philippines marks Easter with annual ritual crucifixions

Christian devotees have been nailed to crosses in the Philippines, as Asia's Catholic heartland marked Easter with its annual extreme display of faith.

The gory crucifixions took place in dusty fields throughout Friday with thousands of spectators looking on, as others flogged themselves bloody with whips.

Ritual crucifixions are among the Catholic world's most extreme forms of worship and are done as part of Good Friday celebrations in some small villages in the Philippines, home to more than 80 million Catholics.

The nails go through both hands and both feet, but do not bear the weight of the penitents, who spend only a few minutes on the cross before being taken down and having their bloody wounds treated.

Men dressed as soldiers of the Roman Empire hammered large metal spikes through the hands and feet of Willy Salvador, who grimaced in silence as he lay with his arms spread atop a wooden cross.

"This is my personal way of thanking Him [God] for healing me," the 59-year-old fisherman told the AFP news agency, before being dragged barefoot through the streets of San Juan village.

"God helped me recover from a nervous breakdown," said Mr Salvador, who added he had been doing it every year since 2006.

Gory tourist attraction

After Mr Salvador, it was the turn of street vendor Alex Daranang, whose 20th crucifixion fell on the eve of his 60th birthday.

"The wounds heal fast — in two days they are practically healed," the gap-toothed grandfather said.

The act is frowned upon by the church, but has become a major tourist attraction.

The church discourages these acts because Jesus Christ had already undergone that for all of us, there is no need to repeat it.

Rector of the Quiapo Catholic Church, Father Douglas Badong

Several thousand sightseers, including more than a dozen Western tourists, descended on the nearby village of San Pedro to witness the crucifixions and other forms of piety.

Around a knoll where three tall wooden crosses awaited the San Pedro devotees, vendors sold souvenir shirts, hats, soft drinks and food.

A giant television screen displayed the macabre events to the rest of the crowd.

On the pavements of the village streets, hundreds of shoeless men, their faces shrouded in black cloths, shuffled in slow processions as they lashed their own backs with whips tipped with bamboo strips.

The men stopped in unison occasionally to lie face down on the pavement, handing over the whips to assistants who administered more punishment.

Self-flagellations 'part of culture'

The extreme practices serve as an alternative to acts of Good Friday penance prescribed by the church, such as abstaining from work or from eating meat.

San Juan village chief Claro Tolentino said crucifixions and self-flagellations were part of the culture of the country, which converted to Catholicism during the 16th century Spanish colonial conquest.

"This is the culture that we were born into. Everyone should respect the culture and beliefs of our people," he added.

Father Douglas Badong, rector of the Quiapo Catholic Church in central Manila, said the church does not condone the practices.

"The church discourages these acts because Jesus Christ had already undergone that for all of us, there is no need to repeat it," he said.


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