Pampanga city calls off ritual crucifixions in wake of coronavirus threat

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 11 2020 08:53 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2020 11:59 PM

A Philippine Christian devotee reacts in pain while nailed to a cross during a reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ during Good Friday celebrations in the village of Cutud in San Fernando. Devotees nailed themselves to crosses and whipped their backs in extreme acts of faith that have become an annual tourist attraction. Noel Celis, AFP

Crucifixion reenactments will be cancelled this year as coronavirus cases climb, said authorities in the city where the annual tourist spectacle is held.

About a dozen Catholics regularly have themselves nailed to wooden crosses on Good Friday as penance for their sins. The event attracts thousands of tourists.

This year's rituals were planned for farming villages around San Fernando, Pampanga, on April 10, but local officials have stopped the event to prevent mass gatherings and a potential spread of the virus.

"We are not disrespecting religious beliefs and practices, but we actually are protecting them from the disease that may put them and their family at risk," San Fernando Mayor Edwin Santiago said in a statement.

Health authorities said Wednesday 49 people have tested positive for the virus in the country, up by 16 from a day earlier. A Chinese traveller, one of the country's earliest cases, later died.

"I'm disappointed," said resident Ruben Enaje, who was aiming to be crucified for the 34th straight year as part of a religious vow to atone for his sins, told AFP.

"I talked with the village chairman and he said we should postpone it because of the worries that many foreign tourists might come here and we might get infected if some of them have the virus."

Enaje, a decorator, said he still plans to carry a cross across town to fulfil his religious vow.

The coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 118,000 globally with over 4,200 deaths, according to a tally compiled by AFP.

President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail warned well-wishers on Monday not to touch the Filipino leader, who at 74 lists many ailments and belongs to a vulnerable age group for the virus.

However, Duterte has said he will ignore his bodyguards' precautions.