Philippine Catholics lash themselves in penance ahead of Easter

Two men wearing red on black crosses
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Dozens of barefoot penitents in the Philippines whipped themselves and carried large wooden crosses in sweltering heat on Thursday as they participated in a ritual ahead of Easter in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation.

Some of the men, wearing red robes with their faces covered and hands tied to the crosses, walked for hours along a highway in the northern province of Pampanga, about 88 km (55 miles)north of Manila, the capital.

Others were half-naked, using bamboo flails to hit their backs, which had been nicked with blades before the ritual. The groups stopped to pray at several places along their route,while women recited religious verses. “It is difficult yet rewarding,” said 16-year-old Job Christian Ong, the youngest in his group of devotees, adding that he believed himself cleansed of sin after the event.

He volunteered this year to continue a family tradition, he said, taking over from an older brother who is now abroad.

The Easter penance aims to secure forgiveness for sins, cures for illness, or blessings. “We always pray for strength, (good) health for our families, and thank God for blessings,” said Roger Aquino, a 59-year-old village official who was among the penitents.

“People should understand that what we do is a tradition (and they) should respect it.”

Re-enactments of the sufferings of Christ are a tradition inthe Southeast Asian nation ahead of Easter, though the Catholic Church has always expressed disapproval of what it calls misinterpretations of faith.