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Self-flagellation as an act of penance

In observance of the Holy Week, Catholic faithfuls observe different pious traditions to commemorate the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

While most devotees practice solemnities by praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary or conducting pilgrimage by visiting seven churches in a devotion called “Visita Iglesia” to express their repentance, some would prefer going to extreme lengths to seek penance. 

In the city of Navotas, the atonement for sins comes with bloodshed as penitents willingly subject themselves to self-mortification for divine intervention. It mainly involves the act of self-flagellation to physically feel the sufferings endured by Christ towards reaching a state of personal redemption. 

Francis Tapang, a 45-year-old believer, has been participating in the annual organized procession of self-flagellation in the city for the past 21 years as a way of fulfilling a "panata"  or religious vow. 

Under the scorching heat of the sun on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Tapang would walk barefoot for about 1 kilometer while whipping his wounded back with makeshift scourge called "bulyos" that is made of cylindrical bamboo sticks attached to a knitted rope. 

He also wears a face cover to establish a strong connection with God as the identity of penitents often attract leisurely attention from onlookers which can be distracting in their utterance of prayers and intentions during the procession. 

"Yung iba kasi mga naglalaro lang, mga naka-sunglass, mga naka-stepin [tsinelas], kami talagang alas dose, lumalakad kami, mga naka-paa. Nakahubad kami, kainitan talaga ng araw. ‘Yun talaga ang panata namin (The others are just playing, wearing sunglasses and slippers unlike us who really walk barefoot when the clock hits 12 noon. We are half naked under the heat of the sun. That defines our penance),” said Tapang, expressing his frustration as the sanctity of this tradition is now being compromised by flagellants who inflict bodily scourging in bad faith or for entertainment purposes only. 

On the other hand, when asked about the possible injuries that the flagellation can cause, the devotee affirmed how the spiritual benefits of this devotional rite outweigh the serious health risks. 

This year marks the end of Francis' voluntary penance. As he lays the final hit of the flog, the one thing he asks in return for his sacrifice is the restoration of unity and peace between the members of his family. 

"[Ang hiling ko lang ay] magkasundo-sundo kaming magkakapatid kasi hiwa-hiwalay kaming tatlo eh. Kapag nagsama-sama naman, lagi kami nag-aaway, nagbabangayan (My only wish is for us siblings to get along because we are emotionally distant. Whenever we are together, we just fight and argue)," he added. 

The extreme displays of faith are particularly frowned upon by the pillars of the Catholic Church, citing it as a misinterpretation of repentance. However, the commitment of the penitents to reach this extent remains absolute. (PIA-NCR)

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Susan De Leon

Assistant Regional Head

National Capital Region

IO 3

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