Filipino Catholics Atone for Their Sins by Re-enacting Jesus’ Crucifixion as Christians Around the World Mark Good Friday
Filipino Catholics reenacted the crucifixion of Jesus after many of them marched through the streets whipping themselves and lacerating their backs with razorblades.
Gruesome footage from across the Southeast Asian country showed masked devotees performing the acts of self-inflicted pain to mark the Holy Week in a bloody religious ritual to atone for their sins.
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 located north of Manila, eight people had 8cm 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.
They struck their backs with wooden rods, one for each station of the cross as depicted in Catholic tradition of Jesus’ walk to the hill of Golgotha where he was crucified.
The gory scenes are traditional in small towns of the primarily Catholic nation before Easter as a form of worship believed to cleanse sins, cure illness, and grant wishes.
‘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.’
Mr 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.
Though 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,’ 28-year-old Juliette Pawinska, said, 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, said.
‘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.’
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.
Meanwhile in India, Catholics reenacted the crucifixion in a less extreme way, with Passion plays in town squares where an actor played Jesus alongside Roman soldiers and other Biblical figures.
The actor appeared to not be significantly harmed during the Good Friday presentation that was watched by hundreds of Christian onlookers in the Hindu-majority country.
Similar scenes played out in Sydney as 24-year-old student Alec Green carried a cross down Martin Place in the CBD as hundreds followed on either side to watch the spectacle.
His effort was part of a more contemporary retelling of Jesus’ last hours, using milk crates as sets.
Another reenactment didn’t go as well with the actor playing Jesus attacked over a personal dispute in front of a congregation on the Gold Coast.
A man approached the actor, named only as Marco, and shoved him to the ground and threatened him after a verbal argument at the Sacred Heart Church at Clear Island Waters.
The procession was otherwise somber as light rain fell and churchgoers put their voices to prayer and song as they walked with ‘Jesus’, who carried a wooden cross to symbolise the crucifixion.
Across the world in Granada, Nicaragua, Catholic faithful took part in the Viacrucis Aquatic earlier this week on boats between the islets of Lake Cocibolca.
The procession of boats carried the venerated image of Jesus with his hands tied, on boats decorated with flowers and flags followed by hundreds of believers in 40 other vessels.
They complete 14 stations of the cross from Catholic tradition and was started in 1980 by pastor Omar Cordero of the Church of Guadalupe as a way for islanders to mark to occasion.
‘That is why he chose to move the tradition in an aquatic way. At first it was done in rowing boats, which year after year has increased and to date has reached great popularity,’ Juan Ramon Estrada, tour guide of the Nicaraguan Institute of Culture, said.
Elsewhere in Granada worshipers in red robes and KKK-style white masks held ceremonies and marched through the streets carrying a figure of Jesus with an elaborately decorated cross on his shoulder, flanked by two angels and a lamb.
The Jesus of the Great Power procession started at the La Merced church with devotees assembling and holding small figures of Jesus carrying his cross dressed in similar robes to them.