Devotees nailed to cross in Philippine folk Catholicism ritual

Fri Mar 29, 2013 5:40am EDT
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By Michaela Cabrera

CUTUD, Philippines (Reuters) - About two dozen Filipinos were nailed to crosses on Good Friday in an extreme display of devotion that the Catholic church looks down upon as a form of folk religion but appears powerless to stop.

The re-enactment of the passion of Jesus Christ draws thousands of tourists to the Pampanga region, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, to watch barefoot penitents flagellate themselves and a series of crucifixions on an artificial hill.

The practice, which took hold in the province about 60 years ago as form of religious vow by poor people seeking forgiveness, a cure for illness and the fulfilment of other wishes.

Archbishop Paciano Aniceto said the gory practice was a distortion of Christ's teachings of love and selfless service. But he conceded that the church could not stop the ritual that he described as "popular piety".

Another bishop said people had to understand the folk Catholicism widely practiced in the Philippines, which has the largest Christian population in Asia. About 80 percent of its 96 million people are Catholic.

"We are in no position to suppress them," Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David told Reuters.

"I do not think it is right to close our doors to them just because they are more attracted to these folk practices than to our Roman liturgy which they may find too foreign or cerebral."

Devotees, insisting they were prepared to endure pain as penance, had 5-inch stainless steel nails driven into their hands. Then, for a few minutes, they were hanged on wooded crosses.   Continued...

Ruben Enaje, 52, who is portraying Jesus Christ for the 27th time, is raised on a wooden cross by a group of men playing Roman soldiers after he was nailed to it during a Good Friday crucifixion re-enactment in San Pedro Cutud town, Pampanga province, north of Manila March 29, 2013. The Roman Catholic church frowns upon the gory spectacle held in the Philippine village of Cutud every Good Friday but does nothing to deter the faithful from emulating the suffering of Christ and taking a painful route to penitence. Holy Week is celebrated in many Christian traditions during the week before Easter. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco