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    Filipinos stage bloody Good Friday ritual

    Bullit Marquez/Associated Press
    Roman Catholic leaders have tried to discourage the annual practice of Filipinos who crucify themselves.

    SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines - Thousands of people gathered in Philippine villages to watch devotees being nailed to crosses as they marked Good Friday by reenacting Jesus Christ’s suffering, a yearly rite that continues even as church leaders discourage the practice.

    Nine men wearing crowns of twigs on their heads were crucified for a few minutes by villagers dressed as Roman centurions in northern Pampanga Province’s San Pedro Cutud village. At least eight other people were nailed to crosses in neighboring villages.

    The spectacle reflects a unique brand of Roman Catholicism that merges church traditions with Philippine folk superstition.

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    Many of the mostly impoverished penitents undergo the ritual to atone for sins, pray for the sick or a better life, or give thanks for what they believe were God-given miracles.

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    Prior to the crucifixions, dozens of male penitents walked several miles through village streets, beating their bare backs with sharp bamboo sticks and pieces of wood.

    Some had their backs inflicted with cuts to keep them bloody.

    The Rev. Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said “there’s no need to go through this physical and literal pain on the body because Christ already did that for us.’’