The Flagellations

FRIDAY 4-04-08…I’m not sure how many of you caught the story and the photographs in the Sacramento Bee over the Easter weekend. It showed a fifteen year old boy who allowed himself to be crucified in the Philippines in a ritual marking the death of Jesus Christ. The ritual is performed every year and is referred to in that Island nation as “The Flagellations.”

When I was stationed in the Philippines while in the navy, I had the opportunity to go to Manila, and observe the flagellations first hand. I was the guest of a doctor, his wife and their daughter. Thousands lined the streets of Manila to watch…kinda like the thousands that line the streets of San Francisco to watch the gay pride parade. In both cases, It’s a spectacle that you have to actually see…in order to believe.

Dozens of Filipinos, including the 15 year old boy and an eighteen year old girls, were nailed to crosses….and hundreds more whipped their backs into a bloody pulp as that country’s devout Roman Catholics marked Good Friday. My hosts explained to me that the majority of those inflicting pain on themselves had been prisoners, or otherwise devout sinners who were trying to atone for their sins.

When the marchers reached the end of the parade route, their backs and arms bloodied practically beyond recognition, they would jump into the salt water of the ocean. It was an all-day affair, a ritual carried on year after year, and I came away shaking my head in disbelief at what I’d witnessed.

They were going through all that pain and agony in trying to pay for their sins….and yet…. that price was paid over two thousand years ago. It was paid in full by the very man who’s death they were commemorating.

And to attain that forgiveness of sin, all you have to do is ask. Doesn’t the Catholic church teach that? If not, they’re doing a disservice to their congregants….and every year in the Philippines, those taking part in the flagellations, are just wasting their time, and accomplishing nothing other than being a spectacle for others to watch.

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One Response

  1. This instance of flagellation (or similar religious exhibitions) is not unique among followers of Catholicism across the globe. It may be an example of syncretism. This ritual may have a root in a pre-Catholic theology and has mutated into this current form.

    But it may not be syncretism at all. Ritualistic physical purging of sin (in many forms — public, private, or secreted) is no stranger to Christianity or many other religions.

    I tend to agree with your premise — if the message of forgiveness and rebirth of the New Testament is valid, such ritual is unnecessary and actually counter-productive to the core message.

    But… I won’t presume to question the religious validity of these sort of practices. Many cultures engage in similar activities as a part of a rites to passage into adulthood or into some position of authority within the society (such as a Shaman or a leadership position). The person engaging in the ritual may be experiencing a very real and profound personal transformation that is point and essence of the ritual.

    But… at the same time I do not pretend to “get it”.

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