SAN FERNANDO, Philippines — Dozens of devout Filipinos whipped themselves until blood flowed down their backs and others were nailed to crosses as Asia's bastion of Catholicism marked Good Friday.
The extreme acts in the Philippines are among the Roman Catholic world's most bizarre events to mark the day when Christians believe Jesus Christ was put to death 2,000 years ago.
Rommel David and several dozen friends from the farming village of San Juan began the spectacle by whipping their bare backs bloody under the hot sun with thin strips of bamboo.
"This is for my family, so there is no sickness," said the unmarried 36-year-old decorator, a piece of cloth covering his head which had a crown of barbed wire.
David said he has flogged himself for his parents and five brothers during Lent for the past seven years.
"This is the most painful thing I've ever done but... it's for the Lord and it's my penance," he said.
The scene was repeated in neighbouring villages around the city of San Fernando, about an hour's drive north of Manila.
By lunchtime, children were running around the villages covered in the blood of the penitents that had flicked off their backs.
Local officials said about 30,000 local and foreign tourists were expected to converge on San Fernando, which is the heartland of the unique Philippine Good Friday tradition.
About 10 people, including 34-year-old Mary-Jane Mamangun, were nailed to crosses under blazing heat in San Juan, each spending a few minutes painfully re-enacting Jesus Christ's crucifixion.
Similarly, a woman and two men were nailed to crosses in noontime rites in nearby Paombong town, an AFP photographer saw.
Mamangun said it was her 14th consecutive year she had been crucified.
She believed that going through the ordeal had had helped her grandmother recover from two strokes and her sister beat cancer.
"My grandmother is 88 now and she's still healthy," Mamangun said before being nailed to the cross.
Mamangun insisted before and after her crucifixion that she did not feel pain when the five-centimetre (two-inch) nails were hammered through her hands and feet.
But her grimacing face while on the cross, as well as her direct journey to the medical tent afterwards where she lay down and was given painkillers, told a different story.
San Fernando tourism officer Ching Pangilinan said the local government banned foreigners from crucifixions this year after several incidents in the past which had made a mockery of the occasion.
Australian comedian John Safran was allowed to get nailed to the cross last year after claiming he was a Catholic student whose mother was suffering from cancer.
He created much anger among locals when it turned out he was crucified for his comedy television show in Australia.
"In the past we've had difficulties with foreigners who just do it for fun," Pangilinan told AFP.
"Sometimes foreigners have a different understanding of religion and cultural traditions. For the people of San Fernando, this is a vow of faith for them."
Self-flagellation and people walking barefoot carrying wooden crosses all day are familiar sights across much of the Philippines during Lent, along with more traditional practices such as visiting churches and fasting.
Extreme practices are officially frowned upon by the church.
Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, zeroed in on many penitents' belief that acts of penance would make them free from illness or bad luck for the rest of the year.
"Flagellation is a form of penance done even centuries ago. But to do this out of context is wrong. It should not be done as an act of superstition," he said.
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