Christians recreate the crucifixion of Jesus in Italy and Mexico in painful rituals to celebrate Easter


Christians recreate the crucifixion of Jesus in Italy, while believers in Mexico wear real crowns of thorns in painful rituals to celebrate Easter.

The picturesque Italian town of Romagnano Secia has been transformed into ancient Jerusalem with 350 actors.

And in Atlixco, Mexico, half-naked, blindfolded men walk barefoot along burning cobblestone streets.

These are images of Christians worldwide depicting the horror of the Passion of Christ and seeking repentance through pain as they band together to celebrate Easter through their customs.

In the picturesque Italian town of Romagnano Sesia, locals reenact the Passion of Christ - and the commune's transformation into ancient Jerusalem for four days.

Reenacted every two years, it features 350 Roman legionary actors and bodies on horseback and Jesus Christ making their way through village streets in the hills of Novara.

And in the Mexican town of Atlixco, crowds of middle-aged men groan as they drag their bodies along the burning cobblestone streets, barefoot, half-naked, and blindfolded.

Cactus pieces sit on their arms and legs, and 70-pound chains hang around their necks and dangle around their ankles as crowds watch them pass.

Crucifixion during a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ in Romagnano Secia, Italy.

Every year on Good Friday, more than a hundred men make the journey known as the Procesión de los Engrillados - Chained Procession.

In this country, where nearly 80 percent of the people are Roman Catholic, participants believe it is a way of giving thanks or atonement for their sins.

"It's an act of gratitude for all that God has given me and a way to ask forgiveness for all I've done to be better," said Martin Cazares, 42, who has participated in the march for two decades. It helps me think.

Chains wrapped around Casares' bare chest, a red cloth draped his eyes, and a crown of thorns on his head. He waited patiently for his turn while event organizers threw small, spiny pieces of aloe vera at his legs and other protesters' feet, where they stuck into the flesh.

The organizers say the story behind the tradition goes back to a man who was told to use magic to win a woman's heart. He went to a cemetery and cut off a dead man's finger to make an amulet to win her love, the story goes.

But wracked with guilt, he resolves to pay penance by wearing heavy chains and walking through Atlixco every Friday before Easter. Over the past century, the tradition has gradually grown.

Men in sweat walk more than a mile through a city of multicolored buildings and colonial churches two hours outside the capital, Mexico City.

Hundreds of onlookers line the street as volunteers fan men tied to pieces of cardboard and squeeze bits of lime into their mouths—the only thing they can drink as they go. Blood oozes from the calves of some of the men as volunteers pick up pieces of fallen aloe vera and put them back on their bodies.

"The spine is very painful and stressful," Cazares said. "The heat is suffocating you; the exhaustion is from the sun; the sun is burning your feet; it's just too much."

However, Cazares said he participates every year without fail.

Leticia Bautista, 58, who has lived in Atlixco her entire life, said she remembers watching with horror when her uncle joined the rally for three years when she was a little girl.

She said: I think God forgives you just asking for forgiveness.

"You don't have to do such bad things to your body."

Others, like Alicia Garcés, coordinator of the march, shrug off criticism that the procession is a horrible thing.

She feels the event is a tradition worth preserving but worries that participation has declined recently. This coincided with a decline in Catholicism across Mexico, the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world.

Remorseful in a crown of thorns and chains covered in cactus, he marches in a Mexican parade.

A Christian in chains is led out of a building where he is due to join the procession in Atlixco.

Since 1990, the percentage of Mexicans who identify as Catholic has fallen from just over 90 percent to 78 percent, according to Mexico's 2020 census.

The coronavirus pandemic has also dealt a blow to the Procesión de los Engrillados, and Garcés was hopeful that this year's event would renew interest.

"For the people of this city, it is very important that today, after three years of the pandemic, we are back on the streets to live this passion," Garcés said.

Jesus Christ was crucified in Italy's re-enactment of the Passion of the Christ, where 350 actors packed the streets.

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