Philippine Bishops Slam ‘Crucifixions’
Alastair McIndoe – Straits Times Indonesia
Manilla. As Filipinos flock to the provinces to spend Easter with their families in this Catholic-majority country, bishops are urging the faithful not to attend the literal re-enactments of the crucifixion that have become tourist attractions.
Every Good Friday in several dusty farming villages in the northern province of Pampanga, devotees have themselves nailed to wooden crosses in imitation of Jesus Christ, a painful act of penitence that is frowned upon by the Church.
According to local media reports, 17 people have registered to be crucified today in several Pampanga communities, in a ritual that started in the 1950s in the village of San Pedro Cutud.
The tradition “verges towards fundamentalism,” Bishop Rolando Tirona said. “It’s become commercializes and priests in the area have been helpless to stop the crucifixions,” he said.
In a carnival setting of food stalls, ice-cream vendors and children selling sun hats, the crucifixions are watched and photographed by thousands of spectators, including foreign tourists.
Steel nails disinfected in alcohol are tapped into the palms and feet of the penitents. The crucifixions last for around 20 minutes before the “Kristos” (“Christs”) are taken down and rushed to first-aid tents.
Famous ‘Kristo’ Ruben Enaje said he plans to be crucified for the 26th time today. The builder told The Philippine Daily Inquirer that he vowed to do this after surviving a scaffolding fall.
Foreigners too have undergone the crucifixion ritual. But the authorities are acutely aware that these are often done as stunts. No foreigners have reportedly registered for the crucifixion ritual this Easter.
In 2009, Australian TV personality John Safran was nailed to a cross in the village of Kapitangan wearing a long black wig and a paper crown. Locals were furious that he had mocked the event in a stunt for a comedy documentary.
In another instance, the late British artist Sebastian Horsley gained notoriety for being crucified in 2000 to prepare himself for a painting on the Crucifixion.
In a far gorier Easter spectacle practiced nationwide, penitents strip to the waist and flay their backs with whips embedded with glass in the belief that their sins will be atoned. The practice has health authorities warning against infection — and not just for the flagellants: Onlookers are at risk from sprayed blood.
Past excessive displays of religious fervor have ended in tragedy. Two people were killed and hundreds injured in the crush of worshipers at last year’s annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a centuries-old statue of Christ that believers say has miraculous properties.
An estimated four million devotees – about a third of the population of metropolitan Manila – reportedly participated in the three-mile procession.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has tirelessly voiced its opposition to such extreme acts of devotion. Bishop Tirona said prayer and not ‘physically hurting oneself’ was the proper way to observe Easter.
Around 80 per cent of the Philippines’ 92-million population are Catholic, a legacy of the archipelago being a Spanish colony for three centuries until 1898.
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 2553 5055.