Crosses removed at 'crucifixion capital of the Philippines' to prevent Good Friday penitents

In the Philippines, crosses were removed from a site dubbed the country's 'crucifixion capital', to prevent crowds of penitents arriving, in violation of pandemic restrictions. Three crosses on a man-made hill in San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga were taken down on Maundy Thursday at the site, which is normally also the site of actual crucifixion rites every Good Friday. Religious gatherings, self-flagellation and actual crucifixion has been banned in San Pedro Cutud for the second year now. According to Eric Bangal, barangay secretary of Cutud: "Mass gathering is prohibited so as to prevent the spread of Covid. It is prohibited to do any act of penance or flagellation. And whoever violates this rule will be apprehended by the police. We are encouraging everyone to comply with these rules. It is for our own good against the spread of Covid-19." San Pedro Cutud is famous for an actual crucifixion ritual held every Good Friday called ‘maleldo,’ where devotees or penitents called magdarame in Kapampangan, are willingly crucified in imitation of Jesus Christ's suffering and death. Penitents carry a wooden cross, crawl on rough pavement, and inflict self-flagellation, to gain forgiveness of their sins, to fulfill a ‘panata’ or vow, or to express gratitude for favours granted by God. One famous penitent is Ruben Enaje, 60, who has been crucified 33 times since 1986. Ruben said: "In 2019, it’s my 33rd time to be nailed on the cross and now, it should be my 35th time. Last year it should be my last time to be crucified because I’m 60 years old already. My will is strong but our body is already weak," said Ruben. "First time in 2020 that the crucifixion rights was stopped. When our place was flooded and submerge into the lava flow of Mt. Pinatubo eruption, we still continue our crucifixion tradition," he fondly recalled.