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Devotees re-enact Good Friday crucifixions in Philippines

Maryjane Sazon, a 39-year-old beauty salon worker, grimaces as she gets nailed to the cross as part of Good Friday rituals in the village of San Pedro Cutud, Pampanga province, northern Philippines, on March 30, 2018. Sazon said she has joined the tradition for seven years in the hope of being cured of severe headache and nervous breakdown. Thousands of Filipino Roman Catholic devotees and tourists descended Friday on a farming village north of Manila to witness the crucifixion of several men in a re-enactment of Jesus Christ's sufferings, a gory annual tradition church leaders frown upon. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines (AP) — Filipino Roman Catholic devotees, including a woman, were nailed to wooden crosses in a gory Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus Christ’s sufferings that was watched by thousands of spectators but frowned upon by church leaders.

At least three of eight devotees wearing crowns of twigs were crucified by midafternoon by villagers north of Manila who were dressed as Roman centurions.

The spectacle in San Pedro Cutud village reflects a unique brand of Catholicism that merges church traditions with folk superstitions. Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life, or give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

The Lenten rituals are frowned upon by church leaders in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, especially if the event is used to boost tourism and business. The re-enactments of the crucifixion, however, have persisted and have become an awaited tourist attraction in the largely unknown village in Pampanga province, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital.

While the crucifixions have become a summer tradition to locals, they still leave many foreign tourists bewildered.

“It’s terrible,” Luke Henkel from Florida said. “You wanna stop it.”

Mayor Edwin Santiago of San Fernando, the city where San Pedro Cutud lies, said more than 400 police officers were deployed and first-aid stations set up to look after the huge crowds.

“We provide assistance because we can’t stop the influx of tourists,” Pangilinan said. “We don’t promote it as a festival but it’s rather a show of respect to a local tradition.”
Villagers used the crowd-drawing events to peddle food, water, fans, umbrellas and souvenirs and rent out parking slots and toilets. A leading cellphone company provided tents for shade with its name embossed on them.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said it’s best for Catholics to mark Lent in prayers and acts of love and charity.

“Instead of spilling your blood on the streets, why not walk into a Red Cross office and donate blood? Choose to share life. Share your blood,” Villegas said in remarks posted in a Catholic church website.

Friday’s crucifixions would be the 32nd for Ruben Enaje, a 57-year-old sign painter who began his yearly rites after surviving a fall from a building. He plans to stop when he turns 60.

Maryjane Sazon, a 39-year-old beauty salon worker, said she had joined the re-enactments seven years ago in the hope of being cured of a severe headache and nervous breakdown. Her crucifixion Friday was dedicated to her sick sister.

Prior to the crucifixions, dozens of male penitents walked several kilometers (miles) through village streets, beating their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood. Some of them had their backs cut to keep them bloody.

Foreigners have been banned from taking part since an Australian comic was nailed to a cross under a false name a few years ago near Pampanga. Authorities also believe that a Japanese man sought to be crucified as part of a porn film in 1996.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

40 Comments

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  • Of course…it has been known for centuries that the best way to cure severe headaches and nervous breakdown is to drive large nails through your hands. And the best way to cure the delusions surrounding the Easter fairy tale may be to drive a large voltage across the temples.

  • so they made an idol of crucifixion because that particular “church” does not teach salvation.

  • Was traveling between Subic and Angeles City in the late 80s and passed one of these sites. I couldn’t speak for hours, was struck dumb.

  • So, that particular church is not Christian in the way you approve? Isn’t that being a bit “elitist” or “holier than thou” or…whatever?

  • I suppose it can be seen that way, Navy. I would prefer that people go to Heaven though.

  • Don’t mind me. Just gotta know what to talk about when talking to Catholics of this wild garden variety. After all, these brothers & sisters of mine are the victims of the Early Church Wolves I mean Fathers who invented Catholicism and its Sacrament of Penitence, one of seven.

    From Rolando M. Gripaldo, “Roman Catholicism and Filipino Culture”, in Relations Between Religions and Cultures in Southeast Asia, edited by Donny Adian and Gadis Arivia, Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2009, page 128:

    “[Employing] a mixture of non-Catholic and Catholic practices, or folk Catholicism … many Filipinos relive the passion of Jesus Christ, in a formed called PENITENSIYA (penitence) to atone for one’s sin. … Arsenio Anoza, a faith healer who was a self-flagellate, decided to have himself crucified in 1961 on Good Friday. He was the first to be nailed on the cross in the Philippines. He took a vow and had this done from 1961 to 1976. For him, flagellation was not enough to enhance his healing powers. He believed that crucifixion is a means of getting closer to the experience of Christ in his passion, and since it is the ‘most difficult mortificatory vow to fulfill,’ then it is most likely to achieve the desired sacred esoteric healing power. After Anoza’s retirement, other faith-healers followed him from late 1970s to the present.”

  • Let me hazard a guess of the title of your next New York Times-listed bestseller:

    “Good Friday Crucifixions in Philippines: It’s Not Complicated, Trust Me”.

  • Part of your pre-atheism touristy package back then?

    Just curious, how much were the tickets selling at the time? How much is that in today’s Bitcoin?

  • So if tomorrow, Easter, you happen upon a self-crucifying Catholic, that’ll be your talking point? No you-talk-1st-I-listen, open discussion ensuing? Just you’re going to hell, buddy, got it? kind of niceties & pleasantries we’re all dying to hear from God & Jesus? Not even a hey I don’t get it, man, why you hurt yourself like that? expression of concern mixed with curiosity?

  • Not interested. They are not Christ. They will never experience what Christ went through on the cross. As far as I am concerned if they want to follow Him, then wash some feet – don’t make a mockery about what He went through for us. btw – you cannot put them in Hell. They make that choice themselves.

  • Perhaps you don’t read very well (you don’t seem particularly intelligent) but Filipino Catholic church leaders are AGAINST this.
    The Roman Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself, so it is the only vessel Christ uses on earth to save His elect.
    These people should follow its teachings and stop this ugly cultural nonsense as the church leaders have said.

  • Where have you been, dude? This is like our shared Episode #666 together here at RNS. Catch up & keep up, then get back to me. Ciao.

  • So. It’s the people doing it that I am discussing. You were able to understand such,were you?

  • So you said, “They made an idol of crucifixion because that particular ‘church’ does not teach salvation” – but what you really meant was that you’re “NOT INTERESTED” in them as human beings who happen to behave like this in their Folk Catholicism.

    THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation IS INTERESTED, however!

  • Neither 3. Neither a “humor”. Nor “massive”. Nor a “failure”.

    More like an RFI. No, not Request For Information like in my line of work. But Revelation For Incrimination.

    Ergo:

    (1) What’s an atheist like you doing there in the first place?

    (2) Seeing as this kind of thing was a tourist attraction, why were you attracted to tour such a gory event?

    (3) How much did you actually pay to see the show? How much is that now in Bitcoin, the most stable currency going at the moment?

    Cough it up, dude.

  • In short, over identifying with god and ass7ming that it will grant magical powers.

  • You know nothing about anyone.

    So why are you criticizing HPO?

    Oh, wait. You are you.

  • 1. It’s wise to learn which way winds of religion blow in the public square of hegemony as it typically negatively affects agnostics, deists, and atheists.
    2. These religious rites in this country as well as others are not tourists attractions, however, they do attract religious tourists not unlike Israel attracts all sorts of American Christian miscreants
    3. Traveling between two military bases necessitated taking the safest route as a known extremist rebel had escaped prison. This particular route taken by my part of the group happened to pass by the locale of this religious rite.
    4. I’m not a dude.
    5. Bitcoin …not interested in non-traditional, non-tangible currency.
    6. The peso to dollar exchange rate fluctuated between paydays.

  • So, if the “Fathers … invented Catholicism and its Sacrament of Penitence”, I wonder who invented anti-Catholicism, your particular vice?

    Arsenio Anoza was not a Catholic, btw.

    Nor was he the first to have himself nailed to a cross.

    Penitensya (not Penitensiya) goes back hundreds of years, and the crucifixions – which are centered in Pampanga – are of unknown origin.

    These customs are strongly discouraged by the Catholic Church in the Philippines, which considers them to be fanatical, superstitious expressions of Folk Religion, and constitute self-harm contrary to its teachings.

  • Hey thanks for this, ’cause I really wanna get it off my chest about these Filipino Catholics. When I was a kid seeing these things splashed on the front page, it gave me the creeps. First time I saw a comic storyboard picturing Jesus bleeding & what not on the cross, I broke down. But not when I saw photos of self-crucifying Filipinos. I thought, What are you guys doing? Who do you think you are?

    Well, finally, thanks to Gripaldo’s research, now I know. My reaction is, This is Catholicism gone awry. Yet again. The root cause here is the Catholic sacrament of penitence. Yup, it’d do that to you. My study of this sacrament taught in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, confirms this.

    What you observed resonates. Yes, they’re “over identifying with god” – but even more so with their mommy – y’know, their “Mother (the) Church” breastfeeding them the Milk of their Goddess Mary.

    So, mom, what do you wanna us do for you? … Uh, nail ourselves on the crucifix, you say? … Uh, OK, but what’s the Bloody Reason again? “That it will grant magical powers”, like BiO said to HpO (hey, that rhymes!)? Yes, she assures them, that Super Gesture of Feeling Sorry for Yourselves shall get my Son’s attention. And His daddy’s. Not my husband, He, you understand. Sure, I’m Mother of God and my Son is Son of God. Which makes God He’s daddy but not my husband but God’s mom. Well, you get the picture. (I hope.) It’s complicated. And on and on goes the deception while these guys practically have themselves SUICIDED.

  • So “[you] wonder who invented [my] anti-Catholicism … vice … [toward] the “Fathers … [who] invented Catholicism and its Sacrament of Penitence”? Seriously?

    Call it my unrealistic & hopeless revolution against THIS church history – THE EARLY CHURCH WOLVES’ TIMELINE. Help me out if you can, yeah? And join me, brother.

    (1) 52-55 AD. Events leading up to Acts 20:29-30 included apostle Paul visiting Jerusalem and Antioch, beginning his third missionary journey, staying in Ephesus, and writing letters to Galatians and Corinthians. Catholicism had not existed yet, but apostle Paul envisioned the proto-Catholic Early Church Fathers as Savage Wolves.

    (2) 80-90 AD. Disciple Luke authored Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Acts 20:29-30 prophesied the Coming of Catholicism through Savage Wolves.

    (3) 108 AD. One of these Savage Wolves, the Early Church Father Ignatius of Antioch, coined the term Catholic in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

    (4) Mid-2nd Century AD. The term Catholic was in vogue so as to discriminate all others as Heretics.

    (5) 380 AD. Emperor Theodosius I narrowed down the meaning of the term Catholic to signify the cult followers of Pope Damasus I of Rome and Pope Peter of Alexandria.

  • It’s your day today too Ben – April 1st – National Atheist Day (otherwise known as April fools day)
    Happy holiday to you too!

  • That’s better & we’re getting somewhere (else beyond the usual, for me, tiring tit-for-tat & up-the-ante rant-then-counter-rant). My apologies & thanks.

    In fact, I can very much relate to what you now say:

    “It’s wise to learn which way winds of religion blow in the public square of hegemony as it typically negatively affects agnostics, deists, and atheists. … This particular route taken by my part of the group [at the time] happened to pass by the locale of this religious rite.”

    I would add to your benefit, however, so that line reads, “It’s wise to learn which way winds of religion blow in the public square of hegemony as it typically negatively affects [not only] agnostics, deists, and atheists [but fired-up & die-hard followers of THE Christ Jesus of the gospels, epistles and revelation as well. Which, in this case, showcases the hegemony of Catholicism in the Philippines.]”

    Remember, such “hegemony” justifies not just the agnostic, deistic and atheistic movement but the Christocentric rebellion against Christendom as well.

  • Rather than call it your unrealistic and hopeless revolution, I think I’ll call a spade a spade and term it offensive over-the-top ignorant ill-informed anti-Catholicism.

  • You’re unable to provide arguments beyond cutting and pasting nonsense from anti-Catholic sources, making you a rather easy target to refute but wastes other people’s time.

  • Nope….today is April Fools Day. As long as one is denying Christ, April 1 is their day also.

  • A Jew, A Muslim and a Christian are discussing Easter.

    The Jew says:
    “I know all about Easter – it’s in the summer, and everyone flies the flag, and there are parades & when it gets dark there are fireworks ! ”

    The Muslim says:
    ” No – Easter takes place in the fall, and everybody puts a candle inside a carved pumpkin, and children wear costumes and go from house-to-house and get candy ! ”

    The Christian emphatically says :
    ” NO – you’re both wrong. Easter took place in the spring 2000 yrs ago and it was about Jesus Christ, who was the Son of God, and he went around curing the lepers and the lame, and restoring vision to the blind, preaching eternal life, and it was claimed that he was the King of the Jews. The religious and political leaders declared him a danger to their power and crucified him – until his death. They placed him in a tomb and sealed it with a huge stone. After three days, Jesus came back from the dead, rolled back the stone, and walked out of the tomb.
    And if he sees his shadow – we get six more weeks of winter. ”

    An atheist nearby overheard all this – and softly said :
    ” April Fool….”

  • “Crucifying yourself is a terrible way to commit suicide. It is impossible to get that last nail in by yourself”

    Neal, The Young Ones.

  • There is a new apologist meme that is popping up here – your good god does not send one to hell, one puts himself there.

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