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Tradition trumps Church teachings

Thousands of Filipinos ignore bishops' pleas to stop self-harm and crucifixions to mark Holy Week

Tradition trumps Church teachings
The crucifixion is re-enacted at Santa Cruz church in Bangkok using a statue of Christ but in the Philippines there is no shortage of volunteers for the role Photograph
Bernardino Balabo, Julian Labores and D'jay Lazaro, Manila

April 23, 2011

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Tradition seems to have won out over Church teachings in the observance of Holy Week in the Philippines.

Church leaders repeatedly advised the faithful against the traditional corporal punishment and crucifixion re-enactments that mark the occassion. But thousands of Filipinos refused to listen and whipped themselves on the streets of villages around the country.

Some carry wooden crosses, others whipped themselves with lashes including blades. inflicting wounds to their backs under the scorching summer sun. Others even crawled through the streets while being kicked and whipped by friends.

The real crowd-puller, however, is the annual crucifixion rites in the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga, north of the capital Manila.

Alexie Dionisio, 33, and Amparo “Mother Paring” Santos, 70, both said the annual crucifixion rites is the "will of God."

Dionisio, who was first nailed on the cross when he was 15, said he received "divine messages" telling him to be crucified and to deliver the message of "God the Father."

Mother Paring, meanwhile, said: "It was not my will, it was God’s will.” She also claimed to have received "divine messages" while hanging on the cross.

Church leaders, however, are not convinced.

The Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said there is no need for corporal punishment to show one’s faith.

Church officials have advised the faithful to go to confession, pray, and meditate on Jesus Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro discouraged self-flagellation and crucifixions, saying that the practices are an "imperfect imitation with doubtful theological and social significance."

He said there is only one crucifixion - that of Christ - that saved mankind.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Pampanga said lack of catechesis might have contributed to the practice of folk religiosity.

"We have to admit humbly that we have not catechized our people enough," said Bishop David, who also heads the CBCP Commission on Biblical Apostolate.

He said most of those who get themselves crucified or those who hurt themselves are the "unchurched" or "the type who are baptized but would rarely come to church."

Meanwhile, as thousands flocked to the provinces for the long Easter break which began on Thursday, President Benigno Aquino III reminded Filipinos to reflect on Christ's death and resurrection and "to repay this through charitable work, and by helping in bearing the cross of the poor."

In his Lenten message, the president said his administration is making sacrifices to implement much needed reforms, and no "Herod" can stop the administration from treading the right path.

"As long as we match our prayers with hard work, as long as we are united in sharing the burden of the nation, as long as we are focused on the welfare of the majority and not of self, no hardship, no Herod can stop us from pursuing our envisioned reforms," President Aquino said.

In Baclaran district in Manila, some 100 Philippine Airlines workers staged their own "calvary" outside the Redemptorist church in Baclaran district.

"The threat of mass layoff and labor contractualization are heavy crosses for employees to bear,” said Gerry Rivera, president of the airline union.

Some workers carried makeshift crosses while being whipped by colleagues who were wearing masks of government and airline officials.

The workers later joined members of families of missing activists who were calling on the government for help to locate their loved ones.

Meanwhile, the CBCP's online "Visita Iglesia" or church visit has become a big hit with nearly 60,000 visits on Maundy Thursday.

Traffic to the site climbed on Good Friday and Saturday and was expected even to increase on Easter Sunday.

Last year's version crashed several times during the Holy Week due to the large number of visitors.

The CBCP launched this year's "Visita Iglesia" site on April 1 for overseas Filipino workers who could not make it home and for Catholics who cannot physically make the traditional church visit.

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