This Good Friday while walking around downtown DC, I crossed paths with a few Roman Centurions, a falsely bloodied man shouldering a cross and two women in mourning apparel. These were demonstrators, reenacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I thought, "Well, this is a rather unique way to share the story of Christ's death."
Later, I returned home and while reading the news online, I crossed electronic paths with an even odder demonstration of the crucifixion. Many mainstream news outlets reported a long-time tradition that took place today in Cutud, Phillippines.
For over fifty years, this town has held a demonstration that allows select citizens to publicly have their backs whipped or be voluntarily nailed to a cross all for the purpose of showing their devotion to Christ.
The Catholic Church condemned this practice and even accused the town of commercializing the demonstration. An AFP newswire article said:
District tourism officer Ching Pangilinan denied church charges of commercilisation, saying local authorities had an obligation to manage the event to prevent tourists from mobbing the place or being robbed.
But, even though the tourism officer denied charges of commercializaition, the press still seemed intent on labeling the fake crucifixion onlookers, "tourists."
Could this be that the press misunderstood the cultural tradition at hand?
The AFP article further called this event a "spectacle," saying:
In the small farming town of Cutud, a couple of hours' drive north of Manila, thousands of tourists gathered to watch what has over the years become the biggest and bloodiest Good Friday spectacle.
To me, using the word "spectacle" is insinuating that this was some kind of show, rather than a devout religious act of penitance.
Make no mistake: I am definitely not condoning the tradition, but I am not completly convince
d that the press did a fair job in their reporting either. To their credit, the occasion does seem a bit touristy. AP, a newswire service that also called the tradition a "spectacle," described the atmostphere this way:
...more than 30,000 people, including three European ambassadors, watched and snapped pictures. An ambulance stood by and more than 20 tourists fainted or got dizzy in the heat, officials said.
Amid the festive air — villagers peddled bottled water, food and religious items everywhere — police and marshalls kept order. Some displayed banners with a reminder: "Silence please and take care of your belongings.
Now, I don't believe AP should describe the atmosphere as being "festive," since Good Friday is traditionally a somber day, but picture-taking and food-distributing does give an feeling of festivity.
Besides adopting the term "tourist" in their coverage, AFP did a great job of getting quotes from those that upheld the tradition and those that did not.
AFP quoted a 25 year-long participant in this tradition, Ruben Enaje, a foremost critic of the event, Catholic Archbishop Rolando Tirona, as well as a resident of the Phillipines that held a more objective view of the event, German photojournalist Gunther Deichmann, who said:
It's a little bit more like a carnival now. Maybe 20 years ago it was more realistic.
Nevertheless, the debate remains whether or not AFP (and other news outlets) should have used the term "tourists" in their coverage. For outlets seeking to be fair and balanced, it seems their use of this term did not reflect the townspeoples view of their tradition.