Sometimes you find yourself in such surreal surroundings you wonder if you are trapped in a movie. For me, one such time was in Angeles City in the Philippines. It happened to be Good Friday which, since nearly all Filipinos are deeply catholic, is kind of a big deal around here. Myself and a few other fellow travelers knew there was going to be a big event in town, so we went to check it out.
What I didn’t expect to see were hooded people carrying life-size crosses through town, while others were self-flaggelating until bleeding all over their backs. Every now and then another bloodied person would stumble past, followed by a throng of supporters (some of whom took the liberty of whipping that person as well). As they passed a church, they would lie face down on the ground, all the while getting whipped and some people taking their picture.
This is how they observe Good Friday? Wow!
It is meant to be a totally family-friendly event, by the way. Along the road you can buy snacks, balloon animals, Filipino halo-halo (a popular icecream desert), and so on. The food is kept behind plastic sheets, to keep the blood splatters out. I felt like I too should maybe cover myself in a plastic coat, as sometimes blood plattered on my arms from some of the flaggelating participants.
But the craziest thing had yet to come, as everyone gathered in a field where three giant crosses were set up. Anticipation was in the air. The sun was scorching-hot and there were dust devils whipping up sand while we jockeyed for position near the stage area. After an hour or so of gradually building excitement in the blistering sun, music began playing… and oddly it sounded a lot like a Hans Zimmer movie soundtrack (I wondered if it was from Gladiator).
People dressed as Romans came out, and an elaborate reenactment began. Following a bunch of theatrics bythe Romans, a Jesus character was brought onto the stage. After some simulated whipping and kicking by the Romans, he was hoisted onto the cross.
The first thing I noticed about this Jesus was that he had an awful lot of upper-body tattoos. I guess this was a grungrier rock & roll interpretation of the biblical figure. The second thing I noticed was that he didn’t seem particularly fazed by the fact he was about to be nailed to the cross using, as we had now gathered, actual real nails.
A Roman briefly disinfected his hands (I’m not sure if this was in the bible?), then hammered nails through both of them. I expected screams, but there were none. ‘Jesus’ was left to hang for a while, until they took him back down… everyone took a bow, and he was caried off to an ambulance.
Playing them all out, I kid you not, was the theme tune to Pirates of the Carribean.
It was by far the most bizarre event I have seen on my travels.