Eight Filipinos were nailed to crosses on Good Friday in a gory tradition that draws thousands of devotees and tourists to the Philippines each year, despite being rejected by the Catholic church.

The real-life crucifixions took place in the farming village of San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga province north of Manila, and resumed after a three-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About a dozen villagers registered, but only eight men participated, including 62-year-old sign painter Ruben Enaje, who was nailed to a wooden cross for the 34th time in San Pedro Cutud.

In a news conference shortly after his brief crucifixion, Enaje said he prayed for the eradication of the COVID-19 virus and the end of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has contributed to gas and food prices soaring worldwide.

The father of four said he wanted to end his extraordinary penitence because of his age, but would decide before Lent next year. While the pain from the nailing was not as intense as anticipated, he said he always felt edgy before each crucifixion.

The gruesome spectacle reflects the Philippines’ unique brand of Catholicism, which merges church traditions with folk superstitions. Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick, or for a better life, and give thanks for miracles.

Church leaders in the Philippines have frowned on the crucifixions and self-flagellations, saying Filipinos can show their deep faith and religious devotion without hurting themselves and by doing charity work instead, such as donating blood.

Robert Reyes, a prominent Catholic priest and human rights activist in the country, said the bloody rites reflect the church’s failure to fully educate many Filipinos on Christian tenets, leaving them on their own to explore personal ways of seeking divine help for all sorts of maladies. Folk Catholicism has become deeply entrenched in the local religious culture, Reyes said.

The decadeslong crucifixion tradition has put impoverished San Pedro Cutud on the map, and organizers said more than 15,000 foreign and Filipino tourists and devotees gathered for the cross nailings in Cutud and two other nearby villages. However, many church leaders and human rights activists have expressed concern about the physical harm inflicted on participants and the potential for exploitation of the poor.

In conclusion, the Good Friday crucifixion reenactments in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, draw thousands of devotees and tourists each year, but the tradition is not endorsed by the Catholic church. While some participants see it as a way to show their deep faith and religious devotion, others see it as a reflection of the failure of the church to fully educate many Filipinos on Christian tenets.

The centuries-old tradition has put San Pedro Cutud on the map but raises concerns about the exploitation of the poor and the physical harm inflicted on participants.