John Ergon Golpe ’24
The Philippines, known as the most fervently Catholic country in Southeast Asia, holds the decades-long tradition to reenact the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.
The ceremony known as the most visually striking religious festival in the world takes place annually on Good Friday. Traditionally, penitents subject themselves to the most cruel punishments as a means of attaining absolution, miracles, or to give glory and thanks to the Lord. This reenactment takes place in the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites, or the Maleldo, hosted in a village called Barangay San Pedro Cutud of San Fernando City, situated in the province of Pampanga.
There are similar ceremonies that take place in Kapitangan, Paombong, in the province of Bulacan, and Duljo-Fatima in Cebu City. The ceremony held in Paombong is at a larger scale in comparison.
Devoted Catholics from all walks of life participate in this celebration. At 3:00 PM PHT (Philippine Time), willing penitents are nailed to crosses with two, four, or five-inch nails that are soaked in alcohol for a live reenactment of Jesus’s Crucifixion called the “Passion Play” that takes place on a hill to resemble the Calvary. From there, actors portraying Roman Centurions. carry them around for five to ten minutes, with other actors portraying the three Marys and the sons of Zebedee that went accompanied by Jesus.
In total, nine people, both men and women, in three separate sites, are crucified during the Passion Play. According to the penitents themselves, the wounds they receive from their punishments take up to two weeks to heal.
Along with being crucified, penitents also take part in self-flagellation known locally as magdarame or magsalibatbat. Penitents also carry crosses heavier than tree trunks (mamusan krus), and crawling on the streets (kukusad). With the severity of these self-inflicted punishments, first-aid personnel are always ready to attend to those who collapse from heat, dehydration, or any sustained injuries.
The origins of this tradition trace back to 1955, when a local poet-playwright named Ricardo Navarro wrote a street play that retold Jesus’s sacrifice. In 1962, the first crucifixion took place with a devoted Catholic named Arsenio Añoza, who vowed to nail himself to the cross for the following fifteen years if God interceded.
Understandably, this famous festival is condemned by Catholic and health officials. The Catholic Church does not endorse or sanction this tradition, and denounces the Rites as acts of self-punishment and extreme displays of devotion. However, despite these protests, the village still intends to continue this passionate celebration of faith.
Although this celebration of the Lord’s plight has amassed controversy among the Catholic community, the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites and the Passion Play serves to be a remarkable example of the Philippines’ colourful culture and Catholic pride. This year’s reenactment will take place on April 19.
Photo Credit: Traveloka