26 March 2008

Possible Infection as Lenten Sacrifice

Some Roman Catholics in the Philippines take the Lenten season as a perfect time to atone for their sins, and what better way to express remorse than by beating their backs repeatedly with bamboo-tipped burillos until they bleed and fresh blood soaks their shirts and pants. This is known as self-flagellation or penitensya in the local dialect. They walk barefoot around town while beating themselves.

But blood does not come easy even if you beat yourself repeatedly for an hour. The bamboo-tipped burillos are way too crude compared to the flagrum used by Roman soldiers when they whipped Jesus during his scourging. The flagrum is a small whip with "several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals."

So, what do these devout penitents do to improvise?

They ask someone to cut their backs with a blade (can be Rubie, Gillette, or Admiral; take your pick!). What is alarming are the following: [1] this designated person wears no gloves, [2] he uses only one blade for everyone, and [3] no sterilization method whatsoever is employed. Getting infected with HIV, hepatitis, or tetanus is, therefore, not a far-fetched possibility.

Both the health authorities and the Roman Catholic leadership have not been remiss in issuing public health warnings. But no one seems to listen. The penitents probably think that getting an infection later on might be the ultimate Lenten sacrifice they can make.

2 reactions:

Anonymous said...

whew! i wasn't aware that penitents had themselves cut beforehand just to increase bleeding during flogging.

MerryCherry said...

I got similar photos too, because I live in Pampanga, so these are common sights when I get out of my Lola's house. Although I posted them in my multiply account.

It's just amazing when you get to talk to them and hear their reasons why they do this.

And infection is the least of their worries.