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Showing their passion for Christ

Christians across Asia "crucify" themselves to be reminded of Jesus' suffering, but some in the Philippines take it one step further

Thousands flocked to rural fields in the Philippines on Friday to witness the gruesome spectacle of men being crucified in their Easter re-enactment of the death of Jesus Christ.

The ritual, held every year to mark Good Friday in Asia's bastion of Catholicism, has been going on for decades.

Despite disapproval from church leaders, it is becoming a major tourist draw.

Organisers said at least nine men were scheduled to be nailed to wooden crosses this year in the city of San Fernando, 65 km north of Manila, AFP reported.

The tradition also includes hundreds of hooded "penitents" flogging themselves with makeshift whips on the sidelines, sometimes accidentally splattering their blood onto onlookers.

Organisers have changed the schedule this year to minimise overcrowding. Instead of having all the crucifixions take place in one district at midday, they will be staggered throughout the day in different parts of San Fernando.

In the first session, three men dressed as Christ took turns having stainless steel nails driven through their hands, pinning them to crosses as other villagers, dressed as Roman centurions, looked on.

Two of the men were later carried off on stretchers, but another walked off on his own, raising his hands to show they were still bleeding.

Ms Ching Pangilinan, tourism officer of San Fernando, estimated that some 30,000 tourists would attend this year's event and at least 5 per cent of them would be foreigners.

SPECTACLE

She said that the spectacle has been bringing in revenue for hotels and vendors hawking drinks, food and souvenirs.

But she denied that the city government is commercialising the event.

"It's not a money-making scheme for the city government. Although we're not promoting it as a tourist destination, we cannot stop the influx of people to this district during Holy Week," she told AFP.

Ms Pangilinan added that San Fernando was spending about 500,000 pesos (S$14,100) on extra security and traffic assistance for the event.

The crucifixion volunteers often undergo the ordeal several times in their lifetime as part of a promise to God, made in return for a favour such as the healing of a sick relative or good fortune for the family.

But many foreign onlookers were baffled by the spectacle. "I don't know what to think. I'm confused," said Mr George Olson, a Christian businessman from the US.

Father Joselito Jopson, an executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, stressed that the Church does not endorse the practice.

"(But) these are private expressions of faith. It depends on the faithful. We cannot prohibit them if they want to express their faith in that way," he said.

Meanwhile, in the north-eastern Indian city of Guwahati, Christian devotees also play the role of Christ, sans the blood.

To reprise his role, they just held onto a cross or were tied to it.

There are about 24 million Christians in India and they comprise 2.3 per cent of the population, the Wall Street Journal reported.

They are scattered across the country, but are mostly concentrated in the northeastern states and the southern states of Kerala and Goa.