Filipino devotees self-flagellate for Easter, defying ban on gatherings

MANILA (Reuters) - Barefoot and with their backs bloodied by repeated flogging, Catholic devotees in the Philippines defied a ban on gatherings on Good Friday to perform a ritual of self-flagellation as a means of atonement during Holy Week.

Participants were few compared to recent years, after authorities reimposed tight restrictions in response to a jump in coronavirus infections, worsened by the spread of more transmissible variants.

But near one church in Manila’s Tondo area, about 10 devotees, wearing facemasks and with the cloth cut away from the backs, struck their backs with bamboo whips swung rhythmically from left to right as they walked.

“I prayed for my parents. I’m thankful they haven’t gotten sick,” said 25-year-old devotee Melvin Devibar.

“Even during this pandemic, I don’t believe we will be affected by COVID as long as we pray.”

Other, larger groups from other areas had sought to join the flagellation ritual at the Tondo church but were stopped at police checkpoints and made to turn back.

The Philippines reported a daily record 15,310 new coronavirus infections on Friday, one of the region’s highest since the pandemic started, bringing its total to 771,497 cases, among the most in Asia.

Many Filipinos perform religious penance in the week leading to Easter in the hope they will be cleansed of sins and illnesses and their wishes might be granted.

But the Catholic Church, the dominant faith in the Philippines, has expressed disapproval of self-flagellation and considers it an extreme misinterpretation of faith.

It says prayers and sincere repentance are enough to commemorate Lent.

Reporting by Jay Ereno and Adrian Portugal; Writing by Martin Petty; editing by John Stonestreet