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People nailed to crosses in Good Friday ritual

AP reports: At least 24 Filipinos were nailed to wooden crosses to re-enact Jesus Christ's suffering in a local Good Friday rite rejected by Catholic church leaders but witnessed by throngs of believers and thousands of tourists.

Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

Portraying Jesus Christ, Menandro Penafiel, 34, falls to the ground after being whipped and kicked by Roman soldiers to reenact Christ's persecution and death during Good Friday in Boac town, Marinduque island, central Philippines, on Friday.

Ruben Enaje, a 50-year-old sign painter, screamed in pain as villagers dressed as Roman centurions hammered four-inch, stainless steel nails through his palm and set him aloft on a cross under a brutal sun for a few minutes in San Pedro Cutud village in Pampanga province as thousands watched.

Twenty-three other Filipino men were crucified in the rice-growing province, officials said.

It was Enaje's 25th crucifixion. He says surviving nearly unscathed when he fell from a three-story building in 1985 prompted him to undergo the annual ordeal. Aside from thanking God, Enaje now prays for more painting jobs.

"Not a bone in my body was broken when I fell from that building," Enaje said. "It was a miracle."

"Now, I'm praying for good health and more clients," Enaje told The Associated Press.

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Spectators watch as a penitent is nailed to a cross during the Good Friday lenten crucifixion rites in Cutud at San Fernando city of Pampanga province in northern Philippines on Friday, April 22. Nearly two dozen Filipinos were nailed to crosses to re-enact the passion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, in what they see as an extreme display of devotion which the Roman Catholic church criticizes as a distortion of the Easter message.

Ahead of the crucifixions, throngs of penitents walked several miles (kilometers) through village streets and beat their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood, sometimes splashing spectators with blood. Some participants opened cuts in the penitents' backs using broken glass to ensure the ritual was sufficiently bloody.

The gory spectacle reflects the Philippines' unique brand of Catholicism, which merges church traditions with folk superstitions. Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life and give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Penitent Ruben Enaje grimaces in pain as he is nailed to a cross on Friday.

The most number of crucifixions were staged beside a ricefield in Pampanga's San Pedro Cutud village, where 15 men were nailed to crosses three at a time on a dusty mound as more than 30,000 people, including three European ambassadors, watched and snapped pictures. An ambulance stood by and more than 20 tourists fainted or got dizzy in the heat, officials said.

Amid the festive air — villagers peddled bottled water, food and religious items everywhere — police and marshalls kept order. Some displayed banners with a reminder: "Silence please and take care of your belongings."

Foreigners have been banned from taking part after an Australian comic got crucified under a false name a few years ago near Pampanga. Authorities also suspected that a Japanese man sought to be crucified as part of a porn film in 1996, tourism officer Ching Pangilinan said.

"They made a mockery out of a local tradition," she said.

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Three-inch nails pierce the feet of a penitent crucified during the Good Friday lenten rites in San Juan on Friday.

 Church leaders in the Philippines, Asia's largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation, have frowned on the Easter week rituals, saying Filipinos can show their deep faith without hurting themselves.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, based in Iloilo Province, said the crucifixions and self-flagellations are an "imperfect imitation with doubtful theological and social significance," adding that only Jesus Christ's death saved mankind.

Pampanga Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the bloody rites reflected the church's failure to fully educate many Filipinos on Christian tenets.

Enaje and the other penitents said the church should respect their belief.

"When I'm up there on the cross, I feel very close to God," Enaje said. "We grew up with this tradition and nothing can stop us."

Erik de Castro / Reuters

Penitents hang on crosses as they are crucified during Good Friday Lenten rites in Cutud, San Fernando Pampanga in northern Philippines on Friday.

Red Cross officials' concern centered on possible health problems like infection, heat stroke, blood loss and even death from the intense beating. They urged devotees to consider other forms of penance, including donating blood.

San Pedro Cutud village leader Remigio dela Cruz said no major health problem has befallen any penitent since the crucifixions began there in the 1950s. The nails are soaked in alcohol for as long as a year then sprinkled with holy water before use, he said.

Dondi Tawatao / Getty Images

Devout members of the religious sect "25 Mysteries Catholic Lay Missionaries" take part in a panata (or vow) called "Alay Luhod" to mark Holy Week in San Miguel town in Bulacan, Philippines, on Friday.