Despite bishops urging them to do otherwise, devout Filipino Catholics re-enacted the final hours of Jesus Christ, in excruciatingly painful and bloody reality, on the occasion of Good Friday. The re-enactment included volunteers whipping and nailing themselves to crosses during a gruesome Easter ritual.

The city of San Fernando, a 90-minute drive from the capital of Manila, played host to tourists and pilgrims from around the world. People flocked to see and participate in a ritual the Church has disapproved.

Bloody Rituals

The annual Christian "passion play" saw nails being drilled through the palms of four men, who took turns hanging on a cross situated in a vacant plot of land in the San Juan district. The volunteers say they undergo a mock crucifixion in order to please God and persuade him to grant their wishes.

"I am used to it already," Alex Laranang, a 58-year-old baker, said, "It is just like a needle going through my hand. After two days, I am ready to go back to work again."

This is the 14th year Laranang has allowed himself to be crucified. And he told AFP he believed God had heard his prayers, for his family and he live a healthy and prosperous life.

"I am doing this for my family, so that no one will get sick and that my livelihood will continue. I am just a poor man. But I don't ask God to make me rich," he said.

Laranang rotates his crucifix duties with three other men, each of whom hangs on the cross for 10 minutes at a time. They are then taken straight to medical tents, where they are bandaged and treated.

Meanwhile, other parts of the city saw hooded men engaged in self-flagellation, with bamboo whips; these people claimed to be doing penance for their sins.

Church's Reaction

Earlier in the week, Filipino bishops warned people against extreme forms of sacrifices on Good Friday. As many as 24 are expected to be nailed to crosses in this period but the government insists they cannot stop citizens from following their religion.

"Let us concentrate more on the prayers. These are the wonderful ways of celebrating the Holy Week," Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, president of the Philippine Bishops' Conference said, according to a report in the Catholic Herald.

"The Lord appreciates all these forms of sacrifices, but sometimes the kind of sacrifice that we impose on ourselves is not what the Lord wants us to do," Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, chairman of the bishops' commission on youth explained.

Catholicism and the Philippines

The Philippines is believed to be the 12th largest country in the world, by population. And according to the Christian Science Monitor, the country's predominant religion is Catholicism. However, observers and critics within the country say the power of the Archdiocese has waned in recent years and continues to be eroded.

The passage of the Reproductive Health Law, which provides for free contraceptives and family planning for poor families, has been cited as an example of the Catholic Church of Philippines' weakened state.