CUTUD, ANGELES CITY - Dozens of Catholic devotees were nailed to crosses, scores more whipped their backs and others chanted the Passion of Jesus Christ as Filipinos mixed faith and gory ritual on Good Friday.
Frowned on by church authorities, the voluntary crucifixions in villages north of the capital Manila are one of the most extreme displays of religious devotion in Asia's largest Roman Catholic state.
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the church discourages such rituals because the penitents were expecting rewards for hurting themselves.
"We only encourage the faithfuls to fast, pray and confess their sins," Quitorio told Reuters. "We can't stop the practice. It is not necessary, but the church has no police power. These rituals challenge us to guide our flock on the true teachings of the Catholic church."
In the small village of Cutud in Angeles City in Pampanga, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Manila, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was re-enacted in a colorful street play with dozens of men carrying wooden crosses as heavy as 50 kg (110 pounds) and scores whipping their backs to a bloody pulp.
After walking barefoot for more than a kilometer around the village in scorching heat, the drama ended at a man-made hill where 11 men were nailed to crosses with three-inch nails driven into their hands and feet.
"I am not doing this for fame or money," said Ruben Inaje, 48, who has played the role of Jesus Christ at Cutud since 1986. "This is my own way of thanking the Lord. He has showered my family with so much blessings and has saved my life many times."
Inaje, a house painter, told Reuters he made a decision to have himself crucified after escaping death after a fall from a three-story building in the mid-1980s.
"I believed God was using me as an instrument to show the world the Filipinos' devotion to God," he said, showing his bandaged bands at a medical station after the crucifixion.
"I will never get tired doing this every year. This is my personal devotion and I will continue this until the Lord allows my body to endure the pain."
In the neighboring province of Bulacan, five people were nailed to wooden crosses, including an 18-year-old woman and an Australian, who said he was hoping his sacrifice would cure his cancer-stricken mother.
The crowd cheered John Michael, 33, as the nails were driven to his hands and feet. Minutes, later he gave a broad smile of relief as the nails were pulled out.
About 20 crucifixions were held in four other areas.
Thousands, many of them curious tourists from Australia, Europe and South Korea watched the spectacle in Cutud, which has grown from a village novelty started in 1955 to a media and tourist attraction copied in other parts of the country.
The atmosphere was festive, with hawkers selling bottled water, beer, ice-cream and souvenir whips. VIPs and some nuns watched from a specially elevated "viewing platform".
Some residents offered parking spaces for a fee and others charged 5 pesos (about 10 U.S. cents) for use of toilets. More enterprising people rented the balconies of their homes for television crew and photographers.
More than 80 percent of the Philippines' estimated 90 million population are Catholic.