SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA - MARCH 25:  Participants hammer nails to the hand of Filipino Willy Salvador, 59 during a reenactment of Christ's suffering when he was nailed to the cross on Good Friday on March 25, 2016 in San Fernando town in Pampanga province, Philippines. The annual crucifixion and flagellation rites draws huge crowds of people to normally sleepy towns in northern Philippines.  (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
Filipinos crucified, whipped on Good Friday
01:17 - Source: CNN

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Dozens of devotees volunteer for crucifixion and other bloody acts of penitence each year

The Church and medical officials disapprove of the practice

CNN  — 

Some devout Catholics in the deeply religious Southeast Asian nation of the Philippines will show their faith this Easter weekend with what can be deeply unsettling displays, including crucifixions and self-flagellation.

Dozens of penitents, imitating the suffering of Christ, have real nails hammered into their palms and feet, while others drag heavy crosses or crawl on bloodied hands and knees in cities and towns across the country on Good Friday.

Others, dressed as Roman centurions, aid the voluntary crucifixions, which last a few minutes before the faithful are taken down.

Penitents engage in the extreme acts to ask for luck or divine intervention, or in gratitude for previously “miraculous” help.

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The tradition, which takes place every year, attracts thousands of onlookers and tourists in the fervently Catholic nation. It takes place predominantly in the Central Luzon province of Pampanga, but festivals in towns like Cutud in Barangay San Pedro, near Manila draw crowds to watch the gory displays.

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Fifty-year history

The tradition in San Fernando, Pampanga, has its origins in a version of the Passion of the Christ written by a local playwright in the 1950s, which led to the first crucifixion in 1962. It has since grown into one of the most visually striking religious festivals in this part of the world.

Catholic leaders in the Philippines condemn the practice, which is also discouraged by public health officials.

First-aid personnel are on hand at the events, to help those who collapse from heat and dehydration, or who need their wounds treated.

Devotees say that the wounds can take up to two weeks to heal, but are a small price to pay to have, as they believe, their sins washed away by the extreme acts.

Not all Good Friday celebrations in the Philippines are quite so visceral, however. Across the country the faithful gather for Mass, and Catholics were welcomed at Manila Cathedral earlier on Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion and death of Christ.

Devotees solemnly carry out the Stations of the Cross, praying at each of the 14 stations that depict Jesus Christ and his suffering.

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