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There will be blood: Filipino Catholic devotees re-enact crucifixion in brutal Easter ritual

 To mark the holy week of Easter in the Philippines, devout Catholics take to the streets to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
To mark the holy week of Easter in the Philippines, devout Catholics take to the streets to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ   -   Copyright  Jam Sta Rosa/AFP   -  
By Euronews with AFP

Catholic zealots in the Philippines whipped their backs bloody and raw on Good Friday, as the fervently religious country marked Easter with gruesome displays of faith.

Scores of men - their faces covered - walked barefoot as they flogged themselves with bamboo whips under a blazing sun near the capital Manila, while others carried wooden crosses as they were beaten, in a ritual frowned upon by the Church.

Roy Balatbat, his skin still bearing fresh wounds from a public flailing on Thursday, walked for about a kilometre, striking himself and stopping to prostrate in prayer on the hot ground.

"It's punishing but if you have a wish, you will endure the pain," Balatbat, 49, explained in the Hagonoy municipality of the Bulacan province.

"I have been doing this for 30 years since I was a young man. My devotion is that I will only stop when I can't do it anymore."

Why does this tradition take place?

Jam Sta Rosa/AFP
Catholic devotees flagellate themselves in the streets of Navotas, suburban ManilaJam Sta Rosa/AFP

While most devotees in the mainly Catholic nation spend Good Friday at church or with family, others go to these extreme lengths to atone for sins, seek divine intervention and pay home to the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Before the grisly flogging begins, the men's bare backs are deliberately punctured to make them bleed.

Veterans of the gory spectacle display scars of previous whippings, while others endure the punishing act for the first time.

"I inflict the wound to the penitents, if there's not much blood coming out, they'll ask for another one so their sins would be forgiven," Reynaldo Tolentino, 51, explained.

"They won't feel the pain when they're doing the penitence as long as they are sincere in doing it."

Good Friday is also usually marked by crucifixion reenactments in a city north of Manila, but the event was cancelled for the third year in a row due to COVID-19.

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

What does the Church have to say?

Ted Aljibe/AFP
A crowd watches a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ along a street in ManilaTed Aljibe/AFP

"We do not encourage acts of self flagellations and crucifixions," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' public affairs committee.

"The suffering and crucifixion of Christ is already enough to save humanity," he explains, adding devotees should instead "confess their sins".

Check out the video above to see footage from this year's ritual

Video editor • Theo Farrant