SAN FERNANDO, Philippines – Philippine devotees re-enacted Jesus Christ's suffering Friday by having themselves nailed to crosses in rites frowned upon by church leaders in Asia's largest predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Fernando Mamangon, 37, was among the first of some 30 men scheduled to go through the Good Friday rites in three villages in northern Pampanga province's San Fernando city. Five other devotees, including a woman, were nailed to crosses in nearby Bulacan province.
It was Mamangon's 13th straight year for the rite, which penitents endure to fulfill a vow or pray for a cure for illnesses.
"I started having myself nailed to the cross in 1995 because my eldest son got sick and almost died," Mamangon, clad in a maroon robe with a crown of vines and thorns, said minutes before he was nailed to a wooden cross on a dusty mound in Santa Lucia village.
He said his eldest son was cured of complications from measles, but his 5-year-old son Alex still suffers from a stomach ailment.
On Wednesday, Archbishop Paciano B. Aniceto of San Fernando city urged devotees not to turn Holy Week into a "circus."
Aniceto said he has been telling penitents "to take time to thank God for the blessings and never use their devotion for tourism purposes."
The yearly tradition has become a tourist attraction, especially in San Fernando's San Pedro Cutud village, which sometimes draws thousands of local and foreign tourists.
Aside from the cross nailings, scores of men pound their bleeding bare backs with bamboo sticks dangling from ropes in a flagellation rite meant to atone for sins.
Aniceto lamented that a surge of vendors and tourists has injected too much commercialism into Holy Week celebrations.
But Mamangon vowed to continue with the practice handed down by his late father, who was nailed to the cross 15 times.
"After being nailed to the cross, I feel so refreshed, like all my sins are washed away," Mamangon said. "I will continue this until my son Alex is cured."