The Philippines is known for its Holy Week rituals, including that of the Passion of Jesus Christ, becoming a tourist attraction in itself. But some foreigners have taken a liking to it and wanted to be part of the attraction, and not being mere spectators. Sadly, that is not happening in towns located in San Fernando, Pampanga, where foreigners are banned from taking part in the Crucifixion ritual.
The Holy Week tradition started in 1955 after writer Ricardo Navarro came up with the play; the crucifixion started in 1962. Since then, devotees who made it a pledge to be crucified every Lent became part of the play.
Public crucifixions were first done in San Pedro Cutud, about 70 kilometers North of Manila, and the act involved actual nails driven to the palms and feet, a non-fatal method much different to the one used to execute criminals back in the Roman days. Then aspiring faith healer Artemio Anoza was the first to be nailed on the cross and the first to act as Jesus Christ.
Some variants of the crucifixion merely ties up the participant instead of driving nails.
Similar reenactments were held in other villages around Pampanga and in other provinces, but San Pedro Cutud attracts most crowds.
Previous lenten rituals saw foreigners actually take part and being crucified.
Last year, Danish filmmaker Lasse Spang Olsen joined 11 Filipinos in the annual rites where penitents were nailed to the cross in Cutud in order to seek favor from God, atone for sins, and to give thanks for answered prayers. Olsen was allowed to join the rites after claiming that he had been converted to Roman Catholicism. In 2009, John Michael, an Australian from Melbourne, joined four other Filipinos including a woman, in getting nailed to the cross in a village in Paombong, Bulacan.
There were instances of foreign participants of Crucifixion that may have prompted the ban on foreigners taking part of it.
In 2006, Briton Dominik Diamond ended up creating public embarrassment after he backed out at the last minute, seeing the eight-inch-long nails that would be driven into his palms.
In Cutud, an unruly foreigner however, reportedly joined the ritual only to mock it.
In another occasion, a Japanese filmmaker used a recording of his crucifixion as an insert in a pornographic film.
As early as 2013, foreigners are not allowed to be crucified, but only in certain towns in Pampanga. Health and safety concerns for the foreigners were also cited as reasons for the ban. The ban aims to maintain the sacredness of the ritual, emphasizing that the ban on foreigners was being enforced to prevent people from interpreting that the realistic Passion Play was all about bravado and had nothing to do with spiritualism. Areas where the ban took place in Pampanga are San Pedro Cutud, Santa Lucia and San Juan.
Such foreigners however, are still very welcome to observe the rituals.
The Roman Catholic Church discourages actual Crucifixion, calling it unnecessary.