Nowhere is Easter celebrated quite as fervently as in the Philippines, one of only two predominantly Christian countries in Asia (East Timor being the other). The days of the Easter Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Black Saturday – are all observed as public holidays and over the Easter period, many businesses are closed or operate on shorter hours – much like Australia. However, it doesn’t stop at the corner shop – local TV and most radio stations cease broadcasting, while others – mostly owned by non-Catholic denominations – cut their broadcasting hours and feature Lenten drama specials, religious programming and news coverage of various services and rites.
In short, they take Easter pretty seriously. The strong Christian practices of the Filipino people are a hangover from Colonial times when the Philippines was invaded and controlled by the Spanish. From 1521 – when Magellan arrived and claimed the archipelago for Spain – to 1898 when the yoke of colonialism was thrown off, the Spanish controlled the fate of the Philippines and its people. As such the Spanish greatly influenced Filipino culture over 260 years of colonial rule, and you can still see the Spanish lineage in the food, language and in the fact over 80% of all Filipinos are Catholics.
Like religious people everywhere across the globe, some Filipinos take their faith more seriously than others. But it seems pretty safe to say no one takes their faith more seriously anywhere in the Christian world than the people from the Central Luzon province of Pampanga.
Situated about 2 hours drive north of Manila on the northern shores of Manila Bay, Pampanga is home to some of the most…er…devout Christians you’ll ever lay eyes on.
Every year on Good Friday, a handful of penitents willingly have nails hammered into their palms and feet before being “crucified” by attendants dressed as Roman centurions.
While self-flagellation – the act of hitting oneself with a whip to repent for your sins – has been part of Christian culture for centuries, the practice of crucifixion largely went out of fashion with the Romans. But in a show of overwhelming faith, the people of Pampanga practice it annually.
According to Wikipedia, the current record holder is carpenter Ruben Enaje, who has been skewered and hoisted every year since 1986, the year he survived a 3 story fall.
Despite its long-standing practice and following, Catholic leaders discourage this somewhat over-the-top Good Friday ritual, claiming there are less dramatic ways to show one’s faith. But, like all forward-thinking municipal men of means, the local mayor has a more pragmatic stance, pointing out that the spectacle draws crowds of up to 60,000, resulting in a welcome economic windfall for the local community.