Pampanga, Philippines – San Pedro Cutud, a barangay (barrio) in San Fernando, Pampanga is once again abuzz with locals and foreign tourists, all there to await the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ. The event, held annually during Holy Week, continue to draw a large crowd, year in year out.

The Philippines is one of the very few countries where the full Holy Week is observed with penance and fasting. Filipinos, particularly the older generation still cling to age-old traditions, still doing vows and sacrifices, which for them is their way of asking God for forgiveness or to give Him thanks.

Annual re-enactment

800px-Trio_on_crossesIn Pampanga, Bulacan and other parts of the country, there are devotees that observe their annual penitence, for their own personal reasons. The major crowd drawer in Pampanga, particularly in San Pedro Cutud, is the Good Friday event, which is the culmination of the week-long celebration where devotees flagellate themselves, walking the streets without a shirt on their backs, their faces covered with cloth, their head tied either with rope, while others usually wore a crown of thorns. They hold a rope that has 24 small pieces of bamboo strips called “burilyos” tied to one end. They then use this to beat their backs. Others carry wooden crosses for a long distance. By three in the afternoon, the participants will then stage their final event, the actual re-enactment of the crucifixion. The arrest of “Christ” is done at 12 noon.

A personal vow

Ruben Enaje, a local signboard maker in San Pedro Cutud, was about to retire from his “panata” or vow in 2011. He said that he needs to look for someone to replace him as Christ, someone who is sincere and possesses good character. But he has not found his successor, so this year, it will be the 28th time that he will be nailed to the cross. This is a tradition in San Pedro Cutud that was started 54 years ago by a wandering faith healer, Artemio Anoza.

By taking the role of Jesus Christ, Enaje, who is already 53 years old, likewise continues the tradition of the staging of the Way of the Cross or the Via Cruciz, a street play of Ricardo Navarro, which he started in 1954.

Expression of faith

Enaje said that what he is doing is his expression of faith and he will continue to do so to thank God, request for more blessings, especially for the good health of his family. He

said his annual “panata” had cured his wife and daughter. He is still healthy and able to work, and his family had not missed a single meal.

Still painful

Juanita, Enaje’s wife is always fearful. She soaks the stainless steel nails that will be used to nail her husband to the cross in alcohol for one whole year. Enaje himself says that the spots where the nails are driven on his palms and feet are always painful and bloody, although he feels more pain when the nails are removed. It takes more than a month for his wounds to heal.

Enaje is usually tied to the cross initially and raised for 10 minutes, while he recites The Lord’s Prayer and prays for people, including politicians. The cross is brought down and that is when he will be nailed to the cross and raised for another five minutes.

The practice is not condoned by the Catholic Church, however, it is very difficult to erase this tradition from the mindset of these religious folks, whose faith is more strongly professed during the observance of Holy Week.