SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines (AP) — Screaming in pain, Filipino devotees had themselves nailed to wooden crosses to mimic the suffering of Jesus Christ on Good Friday in Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation.
Church leaders have spoken against the annual practice mixing Catholic devotion with folk belief, but it continues to draw big crowds, particularly in northern Pampanga province.
Painter Ruben Enaje, 54, was among half a dozen men whose hands and feet were rubbed with alcohol before locals dressed as Roman soldiers hammered sterilized nails into his flesh.
He has repeated the same act for the last 29 years as part of giving thanks after surviving a fall from a building. This year, he added a gadget— a small microphone near his mouth, although a technical glitch made it difficult to hear him utter Christ's last words.
The reenactment of Christ's crucifixion at a dusty mound in San Pedro Cutud village drew at least 4,000 spectators and tourists, dozens of them foreigners. Unlike in the past, organizers this year banned foreigners from being nailed to crosses to prevent the event from "becoming a circus," said Councilor Harvey Quiwa.
After they were lowered from the crosses, medical workers carried the devotees on a stretcher and made sure there were no complications from their injuries.
"I think it takes an incredible amount of dedication and commitment to really go through something like that," said American tourist Tracy Sengillo. "It's really fascinating."
Devotees undergo the crucifixions in the belief that such extreme sacrifices are a way to atone for their sins, attain miracle cures for illnesses or give thanks to God.
Similar reenactments were held in other villages around Pampanga and in other provinces, but San Pedro Cutud attracts most crowds.
Before the crucifixions, hundreds of barefoot devotees walked the streets whipping their bare backs with bamboo sticks dangling from a rope.
"I started doing this when my mother got sick, kidney problem. I vowed and prayed to God so that she could be cured," said electrician Marvin Tao, 25, who has been a flagellant for nine years.
Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.