Bloody crucifixions mark Lent in PH
SAN FERNANDO, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - Roman Catholic fanatics in the Philippines had themselves nailed to the cross Friday in a bloody display of religious frenzy as the Christian world marked the day Jesus was crucified.
The gruesome real-life reenactments of the crucifixion, which are held every Good Friday in the Philippines, are frowned upon by the Catholic church but have become freak tourist draws.
Faith healer Arturo Bating, 44, spread his arms and maintained stoic calm as he was hoisted onto a wooden cross atop a sandy mound. He then had 10-centimetre (four-inch) nails driven through his palms.
It was the first time he had done it, he said.
"This is a vow I had made to God so that He will spare my family from sickness," the penitent, swathed in a white robe, told AFP after his ordeal, which lasted several minutes, as is usual, and was seen by hundreds of people.
"It was a bit painful, but bearable," he added, pledging to take part in the ritual every year.
In some cases the devotees -- who do not take painkillers -- also had their feet nailed to the cross and one person had to be rushed off in a waiting ambulance after his feet suffered from heavy bleeding.
More than 20 fanatics, including one woman, were nailed to crosses in the farming regions on the outskirts of the northern city of San Fernando and nearby Paombong town, AFP photographers on the scene said.
Crucifixions are the grisliest, but by no means the only extreme acts of penitence on show in the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic outpost with about 75 million followers.
Dozens of barefoot male devotees wearing black hoods whipped their own bare backs bloody with strips of bamboo tied to a string as they went around the San Fernando neighbourhoods on Thursday and Friday.
They were followed by groups of children who covered their faces as blood from the whips sprayed on to their clothes.
Alex Laranang, 57, told AFP he had had himself crucified every year for the past 12 years.
"I had made a vow to do this every year until I die," said Laranang, who sells snacks aboard buses for a living.
"I do not expect anything in return. I do this for my God."
Like Bating, he said the physical pain was a minor inconvenience.
"I hardly feel any pain. The nerves have been deadened."
He added: "After this, I go home, eat and go to sleep. After two days I go back to work."
Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said earlier this week that while the Church did not encourage the extreme show of worship, it does not fault those who go through it.
"We do not judge and condemn, but we discourage it," the church leader said on Catholic radio Veritas.
The ceremonies are supervised by local governments, which put medical treatment on standby, said Reynaldo Sulit, a district official in Paombong.
"People here follow their own beliefs. We should not take that against them," he told AFP.
Camilla Kozinska, a freelance photographer from Poland who is on the last leg of a four-month Asian tour, said she was both repelled and fascinated watching the crucifixions.
"There's just too much blood," the 29-year-old Catholic told AFP as she joined about 3,000 Filipino and foreign spectators in one village.
"It's a new experience for me."
Many Filipinos went through more practical acts of piety like visiting churches on foot to pray during the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday holidays.