Needless to say in a religious country like the Philippines, Easter is a big deal. In Pampanga and surrounding towns in Luzon this manifests in self flagellation and real crucifixions.
Personally I had a very rough start to the day; I was paying penance for eating from a baymaree the night before and was having internal self flagellation. But praise the Lord for Gastrostop, I was on my way in the back of a truck with the rest of the volunteers to one of the strangest events I have ever seen.
The scale of the religious devotees carrying crosses in the searing heat and flagellants was well beyond what I expected. Hundreds of people scattered across roads from town to town to endure suffering, becoming “little Christs” by following the teachings of the Saints to achieve a higher degree of holiness.
So was I moved by their devotion, disgusted by the gore, gripped with voyeuristic anticipation as the nail was driven deep into human flesh? Not really, the whole atmosphere was more like the Royal Easter Show; simply replace the carnival rides with crucifixions.
Kids were on their dad’s shoulders with ice creams, locals posing for photos, eating corn or fish on a stick – a nice family day out. No nannas in shawls wailing, revered silence, rosaries gripped between blistered fingers. Perhaps long ago that was the case, I wouldn’t say it has been overly commercialised either, no souvenir t-shirts that say “I went to self flagellation and all I got was this bloody t-shirts” (bad pun intended). Give it time.