Good Friday in the Philippines Is a Complicated Event

Today is Good Friday, which means if you google “good friday philippines” you’ll come up with hundreds of stories about the annual ritual in which dozens of Filipino Catholics are nailed to the cross (real nails, right through their hands) in a reenactment of Jesus’ suffering. This is viewed by most of the world as a barbaric ritual, yet the tradition persists, particularly in the Northern Luzon province of Pampanga.  This year officials in that province seem to have made an attempt to ban foreigners from filming the ritual, in which at least 23 people were nailed to crosses, including several women.

According to Ching Pangilinan, a city tourism officer and one of the organizers, the ban was imposed after some foreigners took part in previous years just to make a film or make fun of the rites.   “We don’t want them to just make a mockery out of the tradition of the people here,” Pangilinan said.

Meanwhile the Philippine Roman Catholic Church said they are rejecting crucifixion, flagellation and similar practices of some Catholics during Holy Week.  “People should avoid self-flagellation. There are many other ways of repenting on our sins,” said Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel over Catholic Church-run Radyo Veritas.

I cannot count myself as a practicing Christian, but I always find Easter week a sobering period and I think this is due in large part to the fact that I experienced Easter some fifteen times in the Philippines.  It’s not about the crucifixions — although you can’t help but be aware of that.  But rather it’s about the fact that during Philippine “Holy Week” (which really is “Holy Half Week” since it pretty much starts on Thursday and goes through Sunday) you are constantly reminded of the progression during the week of Christ’s, passion,  suffering and execution.  On Thursday night you know it’s the night of the Last Supper followed by Jesus praying in Gethsemane, then on Friday you are acutely, painfully aware of the suffering that Jesus endured.   Everything — and I mean everything — shuts down in the Philippines on Good Friday.  Newspapers don’t publish.  Radio and TV stations go off the air.  (I wonder if this is still the case — I now it was in the 90’s.)

It seems strange to me that in America the Christian celebration of Easter pretty much ignores Good Friday.  Work continues normally, of course there are masses celebrated at Catholic Churches and I presume the protestant churches have some kind of service — but there is hardly more than a brief mention of it on the media and usually that mention is to show a clip of a Philippine crucifixion as the world’s top example of extreme Good Friday observance.  I wonder why this is — why Christian America seemingly slips past Good Friday with little more than a nod of acknowledgment.

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