'John Michael', a 33-year-old Australian from Melbourne, grimaces in pain as he is nailed to the cross during Good Friday rites in Kapitangan village, Bulacan province, north of Manila, Philippines.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines disapproves, calling it a misrepresentation of the faith. Still every year people flock to festivals in towns around the country where many flagellate themselves, with whips and others are crucified. One man, 46 year old Ruben Enajehas, been nailed to the cross 21 times.
They do it to purify themselves, or to fulfill vows they made to God. One man decided to be crucified when he escaped unscathed after falling from a three-story building. Another because be believed it would help keep his family safe. Whatever the reason, it is not illegal to whip your self or be crucified in the Philippines and each year the health department there puts out warnings about safe flagellation and sterilized nails.
This year around 20 people across the country have been crucified. On of them, an Australian calling himself John Michael, is reported to have been crucified hoping it would cure his cancer stricken mother.
This man it turns out is John Safran, an Australian comedian from Melbourne. He joined three local men and one woman in being nailed to a wooden cross in Kapitangan town, just outside Manila.
Since the locals found out he was a media personality their attitude toward him has changed. Crowds cheered when he was nailed to the cross, now they call him disrespectful and immoral. The comedian and his crew who where filming for a TV series were reported to be threatened with deportation and forced to sign an affidavit pledging not to use footage mocking crucifixion rituals.
Initially transport, food and medical assistance had been given free, reports now reveal Safran’s team were forced to pay when it was discovered their motivations may not be as they had described.
Although hard for most to believe, the rumor is that Safran has taken this extreme step of crucifixion to lampoon religion. A councilor from Kapitangan village, Cleotilde Gaspar, was shocked Safran may be making a comedy show saying he had "really been crucified with the nails going all the way through his hand. But if he is making fun of us and what we do, that is very serious for us because for us it is not funny," she said.
Safran, who co-hosts a comedy talk show “Sunday Night Safran” on radio with a Catholic priest, Father Bob Maguire, has a history of going to extremes in TV documentaries to lampoon obscure religious practices.
Father Bob said Safran would have volunteered to be nailed to the cross to get a "forensic" insight into religious practices. "He would not have done it contemptuously. For him, religion is the heart of the cosmos," he said.
Sydney Catholic Bishop Julian Porteous says he is concerned Safran is making fun of religion.
Father Gary Rawson, Dean of Ashfield Canterbury Deanery, says it's not the kind of devotion he would be recommending anyone to undertake.