SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines — Hundreds in the heavily Roman Catholic country of the Philippines engaged in self-flagellation activities yesterday during the Good Friday holiday in an effort to atone for their sins or obtain miracles from Heaven.
The tradition, while criticized by local Roman Catholic leaders who would prefer to see “good works” from followers rather than punishment, has reportedly been carried out for decades. And although various Filipino cities observe the practice known as “Senakulo,” Barangay San Pedro Cutud is the most known for the ritual.
According to the Associated Press, the whippings and crucifixions are carried out with “the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God.” Some walk the streets beating their bare backs bloody while others gather to watch the men who volunteer themselves to be nailed to the cross.
“I started doing this when my mother got sick, kidney problem,” Marvin Tao, 25, who has been whipping himself every Good Friday for the past nine years, told reporters. “I vowed and prayed to God so that she could be cured.”
“I feel no pain because I know I am one with my God in suffering,” Arjay Rivera, 30, stated as he proceeded to cut himself with glass and razors.
John Rio, 29, told the Philippine Inquirer that he has been flogging himself for ten years “as a way to cleanse his sins.”
“I have so many wishes to the Lord,” added Ryan Gutierrez, who was whipped with stainless steel. “I think that before He hears one’s prayers, one has to make sacrifices first.”
Some, instead of whipping themselves, lie on the ground and have others beat them, including children.
Following the flagellation event, participants and spectators walk to a hill to view the Good Friday crucifixions.
Ruben Enaje, 54, has given himself to be nailed to the cross each year for the past 29 years. He was among six men who did so yesterday.
During the event, which was attended by approximately 4,000 spectators on Friday, the crucifixion of Christ is reenacted. Men dress as Roman soldiers and those who volunteer themselves to be crucified have their hands and feet sterilized before being affixed to wooden crosses. Online footage shows the men wrenching with pain as the nails are driven into their extremities.
Four others opted to be tied to the cross rather than nailed, and some of themselves altered their appearance to look like Jesus.
“My faith got me through my illness. I will continue doing this for as long as I live,” Wilfredo Salvador, 50, told reporters. “It was painful up there, but I felt light. I can’t explain it.”
“Some people mock me because of what I do, but we cannot control their minds,” said Hermogenes Calaguas, 45, who has been performing the ritual for 28 years out of his claim that Jesus appeared to him after healing his illness and told him to “devote myself by nailing myself to the cross every Good Friday.” GMA News reports that for Calaguas the act is “a way of doing penance and giving thanks to God.”
“This is my way of salvation because this is what I believe in,” he said. “In fact, I cannot save the whole world. No one does, right? I can only save myself.”
Witnesses took photographs and some vendors sold food and souvenirs for the event and holiday. Some international tourists who had never seen the practice expressed shock.
“This is too much blood,” Waldemar Traczyk, 50, of Poland told the AFP. “But it is interesting to know why a 17th century practice in Europe still persists in the Philippines.”
As previously reported, in January, an estimated half a million Filipinos participated in the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene procession, seeking to touch a wooding carving of Jesus carrying the cross out of their belief that it possesses healing powers. The event takes place every January 9th in Manila.
Those who observe the occasion, which includes men, women and children alike, usually walk the streets barefoot as a gesture of reverence toward the statue. Some carry cloths as they seek to press up against the carving.
The vast majority of Filipinos—approximately 80 percent—are Roman Catholic. An estimated 2.8 percent of the population profess to be evangelical Christians.