In the year 2000, when live crucifixions were not as “vogue” as they are now, I decided to spend Holy Week in Pampanga.
There was no CouchSurfing yet, and I did not know anyone from Pampanga, so without any kind of planning at all, I just boarded a bus going north. I was so excited at not knowing what I would do when I arrived there!
When I arrived at the junction of Dau on Maundy Thursday, I went to a sari-sari (neighborhood) store and asked to borrow their Yellow Pages. One by one, I called the hostels listed there, dismayed to find that most were very expensive (well, for me then and now, over P500 is expensive).
Luckily, I found one which cost only P250 for the night, and it was just beside the church, to boot!
The next day, I joined the procession of the penitents going around town. There were a lot of hooded men flagellating themselves, asking little children to slice open their backs so that the blood would flow.
All around town were splatters of blood, from the parked cars, to the walls, and even the people who participated in the procession got blood splatters, including me.
At one Station of the Cross, a guy wearing a red robe and a crown of thorns, and carrying a wooden cross, had his arms bound to the cross with rope. His palms and feet were then nailed down. I didn’t think the agony on his face was playacting. It looked painful.
Why do they do this? Every year, more and more men undergo live crucifixion during Holy Week. Talking to some penitents afterwards, they said that it was a form of panata, a vow to the Lord, in exchange for something they asked for in the past, or for blessings in the future.
Some people’s panata consist of attending the Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo every year, a very dangerous (and for some, fatal) undertaking given the millions of devotees there.
Others pledge their sons or daughters to the life of a priest or a nun. Others still vow to experience Christ’s pain during the Holy Week.
Whatever their reasons, these people fulfill their devotions every year, firm in their beliefs that what they are doing will help atone for their sins or show their gratitude and love for the Lord.
Let us just hope that the bystanders and gawkers, the tourists and travelers, do not turn their devotions into a spectacle. They do not deserve it.