ANNUAL RITUAL. Filipino penitent Ruben Enaje (center) and two others nail on the cross on Good Friday in this undated photo. Enaje said his annual devotion has been disrupted for the third straight time due Covid-19 but promised to resume ritual by next year after the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

MANILA – For the third time in a row, Filipino penitent Ruben Enaje has been forced to cancel his Good Friday vow to be nailed on the cross as the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) continues to pose a threat to public health.

“I was informed by local government officials in San Fernando, Pampanga to cancel again this year my ‘crucifixion’ this year because Covid is still around,” Enaje said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Enaje’s devotion to be nailed on the cross every Good Friday was his way of thanking God for saving his life following a near-fatal accident in 1985.

“I was ready to be crucified on the cross this Good Friday when I was told to cancel again,” he said. “I am looking forward next year to be nailed on the cross for the last time when I will be 61 years old.”

Enaje had been nailed on the cross for 33 times before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020.

He started his self-sacrifice in 1986 after he survived a fall from a three-story building without a scratch.

He said he slipped from the bamboo he was standing while painting a building, and “while I was falling, I uttered the words ‘Dios ko!’ (My God!), and the next I time knew I was on the ground, but fully conscious!”.

“It was a miracle I survived the fall without a bone broken. In fact, when I was on the ground, I did not stand up immediately thinking I broke my legs and body, but after a few moments I found out I was okay,” he recalled that unforgettable incident of his life.

“I owe my life to Jesus that’s why every Good Friday I have to undergo the crucifixion ritual,” he added.

Enaje said it was only a year after the accident or in 1986 that “it entered my mind that I wanted to be nailed on the cross as myself sacrifice every Good Friday. That was the beginning of my crucifixion.”

“In fact, the first year of my being nailed on the cross, I did not tell my wife and children what I was about to do. They cried when they saw me all bloodied, my head, hands and feet,” Enaje, now 60, recalled.

“I explained to them and after that they understood,” he said.

The site of the crucifixion is in Burol, a man-made elevated place in Barangay San Pedro Cutud, Pampanga some three kilometers from the city proper.

Every Good Friday, four nails and the crown of thorns made of steel are used by a “centurion” during his crucifixion.

Enaje carries a wooden cross measuring 16 feet long and weighs 37 kilos and walks 1.7 kilometers up to the crucifixion site where thousands of tourists watched the unfolding event.

While carrying the cross, “centurions” in full regalia, whip Enaje and other penitents along the way to “Calvary.”

Enaje recalled that during one of his crucifixions, he was kicked and “I tumbled down the road. The pain was excruciating, but I bear it out.”

He said in 1991 when Mount Pinatubo in Pampanga erupted, the second biggest volcanic eruption in the world in the 20th century that spewed tons of ashes that circled around the globe, he continued his annual ritual of being nailed on the cross.

Enaje is the longest Filipino penitent being nailed on the cross every Good Friday, saying he will continue his devotion as long as his health allows. (PNA)