BOAC, Philippines (AFP) — Whipping their backs to a bloody state and nailing themselves to crosses, devotees in the fervently Catholic Philippines marked Good Friday with extreme acts of faith that have become tourist attractions.
In towns north of Manila at least five people were nailed to crosses, while in an island to the south hundreds of residents dressed up as Roman centurions as part of decades-old traditions in the Southeast Asian nation.
These customs flourish, although they are not officially endorsed by church leadership.
In the island of Marinduque, about 150 kilometers (100 miles) south of the capital, residents in centurion outfits and heavy wooden masks, played at hunting down a renegade Roman soldier called St. Longinus.
Legends say Longinus thrust his spear through the side of the crucified Christ.
Christ’s blood spurted on his face, healing the centurion’s blindness and convincing him to change sides.
The climax of the week-long drama is on Saturday when the centurions capture Longinus and dramatically “behead” him.
Organizer Raymond Nepomuceno said they were now encouraging children to take part even if they used lighter plastic or fibreglass masks.
“I feel like it’s a dying culture and to preserve it for the new generation we let the children join whether as a vow (to God) or just to enjoy,” he told AFP.
Nemesio de los Reyes said he was taking part in the re-enactment so he and his family would remain healthy.
“Being a Morion (centurion) is part of my vow in life. While I’m still strong and healthy I will do this. It’s also my sacrifice and I’m hoping that my prayers will be answered that my friends and family will stay healthy,” he said.
Half-naked men showed their devotion in a cemetery by flogging their backs that had earlier been sliced by a razor as part of their vow to God.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I do this so my sins will be forgiven,” said Sammy Matre.
Newcomer John Allen Jamig, 17, briefly fainted after his flogging drew blood.
“I don’t know why I felt dizzy, I think because I didn’t have enough sleep last night,” he insisted.
In San Pedro village north of Manila, 56-year-old Ruben Enaje underwent his 31st crucifixion after surviving a construction accident.
Dozens of other devotees whipped their backs in a macabre procession under the burning sun, with foreigners and local tourists in the normally sleepy village watching the spectacle in awe.
In a nod to commercialism, vendors hawked soft drinks, snacks, hats and umbrellas with banners of major telecom firm Smart Communications, a sponsor of the Good Friday event, in the background.