Roman Catholics in the Philippines celebrated Holy Week in an intriguing way once again this year. Filipinos in the northern provinces of the country observed Good Friday by being crucified.
As part of an annual re-enactment, Roman Catholics primarily in the Pampanga province of the Philippines allowed actors fully clad in the garb of ancient Roman soldiers to drive stainless steel nails into their hands and feet. The participants would then hang on the crosses for several minutes while thousands of onlookers watched them agonize in pain, took pictures of them and videotaped the entire ordeal.
Chief Remigio de la Cruz, the leader of the San Pedro Cutud village in the Philippines, said that the practice actually began in his village in the 1950s. The re-enactment starts in a similar fashion of the historical record of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Participants marched through the streets on the morning of Good Friday being beaten with makeshift whips or carrying full-size crosses. Others dressed themselves in black hooded robes and violently beat themselves with their own whips as an act of penance. From there, the “Roman Centurions” take the participants, hold them against their crosses and pound the nails into their bodies.
Participants in the ritual have various reasons for taking part in the bloody practice. Some Filipinos said the Good Friday observance was their way to offer thanks to God, some said that they expected miracles in their lives after experiencing the suffering that Jesus did thousands of years ago and some believed that being crucified is a way to atone for their sins.
Of course, this practice of self-mutilation is not outlined or encouraged anywhere in scripture. In fact, in the New Testament 1 Peter 2:24 actually says, “[Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Also, the Roman Catholic Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who is the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines, said that the Church believes that the ritual “is not the desire of Christ.” He said that despite the long history of the event, the Catholic Church desires that the practice would stop and believers would instead devote themselves to prayer.
The practice seems to interweave both Roman Catholic beliefs with long-held Filipino folk beliefs and traditions. This could be why some participants believe that re-enacting the crucifixion would bring them good luck or health. One of the event’s most popular participants is 53-year-old Ruben Enaje, a sign painter. Enaje has taken part in the re-enactment for 28 years now and has even had a movie made about him detailing his life and his yearly pilgrimage. He started the ritual practice shortly after surviving a fall from a building, and has taken part in the event every year since. In this year’s event Enaje had a wireless microphone hanging on the cross next to his mouth. The microphone allowed onlookers to hear his screams of pain in full stereo sound from nearby loudspeakers as the nails were driven into his hands and feet. After several minutes of hanging fully exposed on the cross, Enaje was taken down and attended to by first aid personnel.
Despite Enaje and Lasse Spang Olsen, the filmmaker who detailed Enaje’s experiences, both claiming that the event is a personal matter between God and the participants, Villegas insists that the practice does not help advance the kingdom of God.
“If what you do makes you love others more,” Villegas said, “Then it is pleasing to God. But if you do it for photographs, just to be famous, that is spiritual vanity.”
The health department of the Philippines also condemns the process because of the various health risks. If people feel that they must partake in the Good Friday observance, however, the department asks Filipinos to at least receive a tetanus shot before being crucified.
By Jeremy Mika