SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines (AP) — A Filipino devotee was nailed to a cross for the 30th time in an annual Good Friday ritual, which he dedicated to peace in Belgium and other countries targeted by Islamic extremists.
Ruben Enaje and 14 other men, some screaming in pain, were nailed to wooden crosses by actors dressed as Roman centurions in San Pedro Cutud and two other rice farming villages in Pampanga province north of Manila, according to organizers.
Thousands of foreign and local tourists snapped pictures of the devotees, who re-enacted Jesus Christ's suffering and death in scorching heat. Other devotees flogged their own bloodied backs with whips while walking barefoot around the dusty villages.
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 for a better life, and to give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.
Enaje, a 55-year-old sign painter, began the annual ordeal after he fell from a three-story building in 1985 and survived nearly unscathed.
Asked what he was praying for this year, Enaje said he was saddened by the recent bombings at the Brussels airport and subway station and other attacks in the Middle East that hurt innocent people.
"What are they fighting for?" Enaje asked, referring to Islamic State group militants who have claimed responsibility for the Brussels attacks. "Even the innocent are not spared. They want to lord over the world but that can't be allowed to happen."
He expressed concern over reports that Islamic State extremists may have already influenced Muslim militants in the southern Philippines.
The Lenten rituals are frowned upon by church leaders in the Philippines, Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation, especially if the religious spectacle is used to boost tourism. The event, however, has persisted and has become an awaited tourist attraction in San Pedro Cutud village, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Manila.
After 30 years, Enaje said he has thought of ending his involvement in the crucifixions in the next few years, although he remains physically fit to endure the experience, which has deepened his faith.
The intensity of the pain, he said, has never changed in each of the year that the four-inch stainless steel nails were hammered through the same spot in his palm and feet. When the cross is hoisted up, the movement adds to the suffering, he said.
"The only thing in my mind is that God went through worse," Enaje said.
Associated Press writer Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines contributed to this report.