COVER STORY

Devotee crucified for 32nd time: Absence of pain is not penance

After 32 years of being crucified in the annual 'Senakulo,' this devotee from San Fernando, Pampanga explains his continuing commitment to the religious tradition.

Senakulo-2018_13_CNNPH.jpg Men and women have themselves crucified in the annual re-enactment of Jesus Christ's crucifixion in three barangays in San Fernando, Pampanga.  

San Fernando, Pampanga (CNN Philippines)   Many Filipinos seek penance during Holy Week in many ways from joining processions, visiting churches to doing charitable acts.

The Catholics do this yearly tradition to atone for their sins and pray for miracles.

But for the so-called "Ben Kristo" of San Fernando, Pampanga, pain is necessary when asking for forgiveness from God.

"Kailangan pag namanata ka, may kaunting sakit sa ating katawan," said 58-year-old Ruben Enaje, who has been nailed to a cross for 32 years every Good Friday.

[Translation: When you make a vow, you need to experience pain.]

Enaje is one of the eight men and a woman who had themselves crucified during city's annual Lenten rites in San Fernando, Pampanga.

"Kung hindi mo sasaktan ang iyong katawan o sarili sa pamamanata, hindi na panata 'yun,"  Enaje said.

[Translation: It's not a vow if you don't hurt yourself.]

Citing the example of Jesus going to heaven after he died on the cross, Enaje said inflicting pain on oneself will eventually lead to good outcomes in life.

Enaje, however, clarified the pain should not be excessive so as not to endanger a devotee's life.

Ruben-Enaje_CNNPH.png Ruben Enaje has been taking part in the "Senakulo" for 32 years by being crucified.  

No more pain

After more than three decades of being crucified, Enaje said the pain becomes less.

Prior to his crucifixion, he walked for at least three kilometers during the passion play while being whipped by Roman soldier actors and carrying a 40-kilo wooden cross.

The spectators watched in a mix of awe and amazement as they took photos, selfies, and videos of the actors dressed in colorful costumes.

"Walang gaanong sakit eh. Kagaya ng pagbuhat ng krus, hindi ko naramdaman sa aking balikat. 'Yung sa paa kahit dumugo, parang walang nangyari pa rin, pwede nang ipadyak," said Enaje.

[Translation: I don't feel any pain when carrying the cross, both in my shoulders and feet.]

Still, he said he experiences pain to some degree. "Pakiramdam ko kapag pinapako parang sa krus, kung hindi lang ako nakatali baka tumakbo na ako eh. Pero iniisip ko 'yung panata ko, kahit gaano pa kasakit, tatanggapin ko."

[Translation: If I'm not tied to the cross, I might run and give up. But I think of my vow -- and that no matter how painful it is, I will accept it.]

Senakulo-2018_6_CNNPH.jpg Penitents whip themselves and wound their backs with razor blades in a Good Friday procession in San Fernando, Pampanga.

Keeping the faith

Enaje decided to become a devotee since 1985 after he fell from a 30-feet, three-story construction site without any single broken bone or even a bruise.

Since then, as he practiced his penance, he said he was eventually able to get a permanent job and a car.

"Noon nakikitira lang kami sa lupa ng may lupa, ngayon nakabili na ako ng lupa," he added.

[Translation: Before we stayed in someone else's property; now I have my own.]

He also portrayed "Kristo" in the "Senakulo," or play showing Jesus Christ's passion and death staged on the streets of San Pedro Cutud village.

People in his community have been letting him take the lead role since 1986 because of his good standing in his community.

Ben Kristo, however, wants to retire in two years.

Enaje said his son has no intention of following in his footsteps, and he is also not keen of asking him to do so.

"Hindi ko siya pipilitin na mamanata," Enaje said. "Kung mamamanata na siya, sasabihin ko o tatanungin ko sa kanya kung ano 'yung pinapanata niya, hindi lang basta-basta, hindi basta-basta yung namamanata ka."

[Translation: I cannot force him to do so. If he wants to make a similar vow, I will have to ask him what about. He cannot do it without reason.]

He also advised those who would want to become "Ben Kristo" to show that their devotion comes from the heart.

Senakulo-2018_14_CNNPH.jpg An estimated 50,000 local and foreign devotees and tourists turned up for the passion play and crucifixions in San Fernando, Pampanga.  

Out of curiosity

Some foreign tourists that CNN Philippines talked to said they wanted to witness the event out of curiosity.

Pampanga officials estimated the Lenten rites drew about 50,000 local and foreign tourists and devotees.

Argentinian national Martin D' Hers said although he respects what Enaje and other penitents did, he does not support their acts.

"I think it's crazy, especially that the Church is not supportive of it, it's really crazy," said D' Hers, who also said he does not believe in religion. "Religion is a crime," he added.

American national Gabe Kieffer, meanwhile, said the event was entertaining. Like D' Hers, however, he said the pain experienced by penitents was not worth it.

"It's pretty hard to watch. Never seen anything like that before. I just wanted to see what the hype is about," said Kiefer.

Other local tourists, meanwhile, said merely watching the spectacle is a penance in itself.

"I'm so nervous. Grabe. Ang sakit sa puso," said Glenda Valenzuela. "Kasi nga diba binigay niya lahat ang kanyang buhay para sa atin."

[Translation: I was so nervous. It was hard to watch, because you will see how Jesus gave his life for us.]

Senakulo-2018_12_CNNPH.jpg Devotees stage "Senakulo" re-enactment of passion and death of Jesus Christ on the streets of San Fernando, Pampanga.  

Decades-long tradition

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Health Department (DOH) are, however, against extreme forms of devotion like voluntary crucifixion and self-flagellation.

CBCP officials had been saying there are more meaningful ways of expressing penance like doing charitable acts.

The DOH, meanwhile, said penitents can acquire tetanus even if the nails and blades had been soaked in isopropyl alcohol for a long period of time.

Enaje, however, shrugged off the concerns especially that of the Catholic Church.

He said the practice has been there for decades, even older than the priests who are complaining about it.