CUTUD VILLAGE, San Fernando, Pampanga – The re-enactment here of the Pasyon, the life and death of Jesus Christ, is a curious mix of old and new, of the spiritual and the worldly. The iron smell of blood dripping from the backs of penitents hangs in the air along with the perfume of the well-heeled devotees and the not-so-pleasant smell of bodies sweating in the heat. In the background, the dramatized screams of agony blend with the not-so-perfect pitch of a villager singing “My Way” on the videoke as Hesus falls on the way to Calvary Hill.

At Golgotha, the penitents make their way to the three crosses on top of a hill, where, by tradition, three of them are crucified in remembrance of a man who gave his life for us two thousand years ago. Surrounding this scene of passion and intense spirituality are icons of a more modern era – merchandising tents of ion drinks and telecommunications companies. Some devotees close their eyes in prayer and wait for the start of Christ’s agony, while the giggling young ones take selfies, unmindful of the contemptuous stares of the old faithful who have come here to reflect.

Vendors also hawk their wares, from caps to hats, fresh coconuts to “ice scramble” and even the bulyos, the flogging instrument used by penitents to bleed themselves. As abundant as the prayers are the cameras – the big ones lugged by major cameramen of big TV networks or foreign correspondents to the ones on cellphones that almost every one whips out at the moment the five-inch stainless steels nails are hammered into the flesh of this year’s Kristo.

At the center of it all is Ruben Enaje who probably holds the record for coming back from the “dead” 27 times in a row. This could probably be the last year for the signboard maker already in his 50s to be Jesus Christ. Last year was supposed to be his last but he agreed to do it again this year after villagers failed to find an appropriate volunteer willing to portray Jesus Christ and agreeing to be nailed to the cross.

People here say there was one who volunteered last year but officials found him to be unfit, unlike Enaje who has no vices or extramarital affairs.

“It is not only a tradition, it carries deep meaning for us,” 57-year-old Cutud resident Rene Malonzo said in the vernacular. In fact for some Cutud residents, the Pasyon is more important than Christmas because “it really traces the life and sufferings of Christ and the valuable lessons that must be remembered by us,” Rene said.

His neighbor, Jun Flores, is not a Catholic. He is a member of the Iglesia Ni Kristo but to him, observing the Cutud rites is also important. “This is part of what we do in the community,” he said, while helping Malonzo point people to the Crucifixion Hill.

While this tradition is frowned upon even by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, it carries a special meaning for those who have been doing it for years, a panata or pledge to usher in blessings for them. One said his father had a stroke nine years ago. Since he started flogging himself during the Semana Santa, no member of his family ever had a serious case of illness.

Another, who brought his entire family to the Crucifixion, said his daughter died three years ago. He, too, was once a penitent but when his daughter died, he became a “tabas” or a person who wounds the back of a penitent.

Most of those who can actually witness the crucifixion within tents provided by the city government are officials and VIPs. Those outside can only hope to see a glimpse of it as they crane their necks or climb parked vehicles to see the driving of the nails into Enaje’s palm.

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