May 23, 2019
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Penitents in Atlixco, Mexico, prepare for painful Way of the Cross

Atlixco, Mexico, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- The penitents of this town in central Mexico are preparing for one of the country's most representative Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis) processions, the painful Prisoners Parade, which during Holy Week each year attracts thousands of visitors.

Around midday on Good Friday, 40 penitents will turn out on the main streets of Atlixco, 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Mexico City, to walk half-naked, barefoot, with their faces covered and thorns piercing their skin, dragging heavy chains that can weigh up to 80 kgs (176 lbs).

A few days before the procession, the group of "prisoners" will have to collect the thorns they will use for the event, that ritual, too, being part of their penance.

"Collecting (the thorns) will be done at different spots in town," Jose Luis Rojas Cuenca said in an interview with EFE.

"We're looking for thorns that are not too soft or too old, they should be mature, long and sharp," he said.

The ideal thorns should be sharp enough to pierce the skin but easy to pull out without breaking.

To find them, the participants go up into the hills near town. They know where to go from experience, but the lack of awareness on the part of others makes it harder to find thorns each year.

"People burn them or cut them off at the roots," said Rojas.

With buckets, scissors and good eyesight, the penitents collect the thorns a few at a time.

Each person inserts about 12 good-sized thorns along their arms and legs.

"The thorn enters (the skin) with a tap. It shouldn't go along the top (of the muscles) or get stuck," but sometimes they do reach or prick the tendons and "immobilize the limbs," said Rojas.

With 30 years of experience as a penitent, Rojas knows where to find the thorns, how and in what part of the body they should go.

"Sometimes they break when they are taken out, and it can take six months to remove," he said.

In the days before the procession, rookie penitents need to get a feel for the thorns in their skin, to get used to the pain.

Luis Manuel Hernandez Martinez, 21, will be participating for the first time, telling EFE that by doing so he is intending to change his life after going through a serious situation that he did not describe. "I'm going with a lot of faith," he said.

The group of penitents will go home carrying buckets full of thorns to wait for Friday.

They have been preparing spiritually and physically for the procession for more than two months.

The coordinator of the group, Alicia Garces Guzman, told EFE that the penitents are prepared for their ordeal by means of spiritual retreats, weekly meetings and conferences.

Males between the ages of 15 and 65 can participate in the procession.

For 20-year-old Emanuel Garcia Dorado, participating is a way to express his thanks for his grandmother's health. "I promised him (God) that if he helped me, I would thank him in this way," he said.

During the week prior to Easter, the Via Crucis events and processions are staged by many of the Catholic faithful to commemorate the last few days - and the associated trials and tribulations - of the life of Jesus Christ.

By Nuria Monreal Delgado.

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