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In the Philippines, Catholic Devotees Are Nailed to Crosses for Lenten Penance

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The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country and the Holy Week before Easter is an important event here. The faithful express their worship in different forms during this time, but perhaps the most extreme practice comes in the form of crucifixions, which happen in different parts of the country during Good Friday.

As thousands of spectators look on in dusty fields under the scorching midday sun, penitents get nailed to crosses by men dressed as soldiers of the Roman Empire, re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“This is my personal way of thanking Him (God) for healing me,” says 59-year-old Willy Salvador, a fisherman, moments before being dragged barefoot through the streets of a village called San Juan.

Devotee Willy Salvador is nailed to the cross.

Devotee Willy Salvador is nailed to the cross.

“I know you would not believe me, but God helped me recover from a nervous breakdown,” he says. Salvador has been doing this ritual every year since 2006.

Taken down from the cross after a few minutes…

Taken down from the cross after a few minutes...

The penitents spend only a few minutes on the cross since the nails can’t bear their weight. They will be taken down shortly and their wounds will be tended to.

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Aside from people who get nailed to the crosses, there are devotees who resort to self-flagellation as their show of worship. Hundreds of shoeless men walk in slow procession while they lash their own backs with homemade whips.

Some lie face down on the hot pavement and let assistants do the whipping.

The church doesn’t actually approve of the practice, but it has become a major tourist attraction, drawing lots of Western tourists to witness the spectacle. The event has become a day of business for vendors, who hawk souvenir shirts, food, and drinks to sightseers. The chief of San Juan village said that these rituals were part of the country’s culture, which was converted to Catholocism when the Spanish conquered it during the 16th century.

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