Much like the Man where he draws his strength from, Ruben Enaje is a sign maker and a carpenter.
He has been crucified on a Friday afternoon.
Every year since 1986.
Most people in the small town of San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga – and even neighboring towns and cities – know him as ‘Ben Cristo.’ Every Good Friday, Enaje fulfills his panata (religious vow) by volunteering to be nailed at the cross at Pampanga’s version of Golgotha.
More than faith
San Pedro Cutud is just one of the three towns in Pampanga where Jesus’ crucifixion is reenacted every year during Semana Santa (Holy Week). The other two locations are Santa Lucia and San Juan.
According to San Pedro Cutud Barangay (Village) Chairman Zoilo Castro Jr., the local government receives a lot of applications from people who want to be crucified on Good Friday. With a selection process so tedious and strict, sometimes faith alone won’t cut it.
In 2014, Enaje was nailed on a wooden cross together with nine other people. All of them had to fill out various forms and be of sound physical and psychological health before they were approved for crucifixion. They even had to sign a waiver to release the authorities of any responsibility should any untoward incident occur.
“Yun ang patakaran natin dito para kahit anuman mangyari sa kanila ay wala naman tayong sagutin (That’s our policy here, so that whatever happens, we are not liable for anything),” said Castro in a Manila Bulletin interview last year.
This year, foreigners are no longer allowed to participate in the crucifixion. This new policy stemmed after a foreign tourist participated in the event and used the footage in a pornographic video.
Preparing for the ultimate sacrifice
Out of the 28 – 29 this Friday – times Enaje has been crucified, he portrayed Jesus Christ 15 times. This is his 16th year portraying the Savior of mankind.
“Ala pang manalili kanaku (I don’t have a replacement yet),” Enaje said in an Inquirer interview in 2014.
How does one prepare for such a huge role?
The local authorities make sure key elements of the crucifixion are also ready before Friday – including sterilized nails. They also prepare for the throngs of people coming to the town to witness the procession and the crucifixion. In 2014, roughly 10,000 locals and tourists (foreigners and Filipinos) were there to witness the event.
Before the procession from the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, Enaje spends the day in meditation – adapting the mindset of Jesus as He made the ultimate sacrifice in order to save mankind.
Despite being joined by two other people also fastened on wooden crosses, these faithfuls aren’t nailed on the cross but tied. Enaje is the only one nailed and tied on the same cross he carried from the church to the hill.
The man who was crucified 28 times
Back in 1986, Enaje had his wife and children in mind when he was crucified for the first time. Some reports say that his wife narrowly missed death when she struggled with a complicated pregnancy. Other reports say he himself was spared his life after he fell from the third floor of a building while he was painting a building. Still, other reports tell of tales about various health issues regarding his wife and his daughter, prompting Enaje to cling tighter to his faith.
Whatever the story may be, Enaje decided to volunteer and be nailed on a cross to show his gratitude to God.
This year, he is praying for the same things: good health and more employment opportunities for his children.
“Patuloy pa rin ang ating panata at hinihiling ko sa ngayon ang magandang kalusugan sa akin, dagdag trabaho at sa mga anak ko, yung magkahanap sila na magandang trabaho para makatulong na rin sa pamilya,” Enaje said in the same Bulletin interview.
[My religious vow continues. Now I’m asking for good health for me and jobs for my kids – a good job so they can help out the family.]
“Nakakapagtaka nga dahil nakakaraos kami lagi kahit sa hirap ng buhay. At ang aming kalusugan ay maayos pa rin naman kahit papano. Marami pang milagro na dumating na labis din naming pinagpapasalamat bilang pamilya,” Enaje shared.
[It’s strange because we get through life even if we’re not wealthy. Somehow, our health is also good. A lot of other miracles have also happened, for which we are grateful for as a family.]
In another interview, Enaje was quoted saying in vernacular, “I will again thank God, seek more blessings, especially for my family’s good health. I hope God will strengthen my faith in Him.”