Archive for September, 2011

Union of Hearts and Minds

We have come to the end of a two-week long sharing in the tertianship.  This is part of our remote preparation before we commence the Spirotual Exercises in Novermber.  The Exercises is the key experience in tertianship, something that every Jesuit expereinces twice in their life, in their first year as novcices and then many  years later as tertians.  Becasue of this we are having a two month long build up before we start them.  I think this is very wise and also a great privelege. So listening to my eleven companions stories has been something I will treasure.  It has been remarkable,  and without breaking confidences, I would like to share a little bit of my reflections as we come to the end of this process.

St Ignatius, talks about the ‘union of hearts and minds’ as being an ideal for Jesuits.  As anybody who knows Jesuits or works with them will know we are often as different as chalk and cheese.  As a priest  celebrating mass,  when you look out at the congregation – it is remarkable to see how God has gathered such a different group of people together in one place.  Mass is the only place, maybe,  where bankers sit next to street cleaners, footballers next to teachers, politicians alongside criminals (actually maybe I need to rethink that last one!).  At communion there is no distinction, saints and sinners, all coming before God. Surely this is proof that something unique has gathered us together.  Jesuit communities are often the same, I find myself thinking – How the hell did I end up living with these guys in this place?   With our hearts in union, Ignatius believes that even disagreeing with each other another, when when we have a similar understanding of life and truth, we will always listen with greater reverence and respond with greater respect.  This is of course the ideal – it doesn’t always work!

Reflecting on my fellow tertians stories it is remarkable how we share similar themes.  Whether we are working in Jamaica in a tough inner city

How did this ugly group get through Immigration! L- R Isidore (SKorea) , Emmanuel (Tzn), Rentax (Php), Agus (Indnsia) An (US-Viet), Pri (Indns), me, Roger (Can), Bei (indns), John (Can), Quyen (Aus - Viet) off camera Quan (Us-Viet)

parish, East Africa leading retreats, Teaching high school kids in East Timor, Lecturing in California, Working with tribal people in Papa New Guinea,  Building and managing parishes in Indonesia ( the largest Muslim Country in the World), Organising farmers in the Phillipines,  accompanying  immigrants in Korea and the US or simply being a chaplain in North London. There is a real union of hearts and minds when we come together.  How?  In our struggles and joys, in our loneliness as celibates but also a desire to serve. In the incredible trust that people show us and how the communities we serve open up all their doors to us and invite us into their centre. In falling in love with people and places – trying to live that with integrity – and then having to be obedient to our superiors when they call for us to uproot ourselves again for another mission.   In trying to build up theKingdom of God on the frontiers – and sharing successes with humility but more importantly describing our failures with honesty, humour and a certain fragility.

I know they probably won’t read this but thanks gentlemen…… It has been a privelege listening to your stories  (I am trying to encourage them to share this blog with me – but perhaps wisely no one has showed any interest…. yet!)…..   to be continued….


Pacquiao - well known for praying before and after fights. Hope he prays for his opponents too!

Read a nice piece this morning about Manny Pacquiao – arguably the greatest boxer of all time – returning to training after the typhoon.  Soft Morning Drizzle greets Pacquiao as he resumed road work at high altitude for his November title fight (Tempo).  ‘The Pac-man’ – a former street-kid in Manila, is a model of hope and resiliency for many Phillipino’s and a source of hope that allows them to recover from natural catastrophes.  Incidently we are now tracking Typhoon Nalgae (expected to make landfall Sun).

I was out and about on the streets, although not as early as Pacquiao – popped out to get some shopping after lunch and a now-familiar scenario evolved.  Greeted with inquisitive stares and then beaming smiles, I stopped for a chat with some of the drivers of the ubiqutous motorised tricycle.  A small group gathered and within a minute someone had asked me if I was looking for a wife.  I am starting to lose count of how often this happens.  Very few priests in the Phillipines wear Roman collars – and so are difficult to identify – although if I keep on being asked if I am looking for a wife then I think I may need to do so.   Why?  Not because of clerical ambition, but the sad fact that if you are single white male on the streets of Manila, the assumption is that you are here for one thing, sex tourism.  On one end of the spectrum that may mean looking for a wife ( a bit sad but it does happen) – but of course there is the seedier end of the spectrum, the prostitution of vulnerable women and children.

Senator Pia Cayetano – the youngest ever female to be elected to the senate gave a speech on Monday about this plague that affects the Phillipines. I am following her on twitter.

Pia Cayetano, Senator & Triathelete @piacayetano

On Sunday night she tweeted a message –  Do you guys believe that sex tourism is a serious matter? And that most tourists come here for sightseeing?   I replied to her – that having just arrived in Manila it was embarrassing that I had already been asked five times if I was looking for a wife (now seven!).  My point was a serious one – that unless I am wearing a large cross around my neck, if I am on my own that seems to be the assumption people make.  I wasn’t expected to be quoted in her speech to the Senate on Monday!!  The points she made are quite sobering – 60,000 to 100,000 Filipino children and 300,000 to 400,000 Filipinas are trafficked annually. A staggering 800,000 prostitutes working in the Philippines, with up to half of them underage.  And quoting the American ambassador up t0 40% of male tourists are here for sex-tourism.

All this is very shocking. The damage to the church’s moral authority has been significant because of the recent scandals but that should not silence the church from speaking out on these matters – on behalf of the most vulnerable in society. It would be good to see the bishops here putting their considerable force behind a campaign about this. Also back in the West – we should take a long hard look at ourselves and the culture that is fostered and promoted by men’s magazines.  Although this is not just a Western problem,  much of the trafficking and prostitution involves Chinese and Koreans here too…… so what can we do?  A good whistleblowing website for travellers or anyone is here….. Oh did I mention that Manny Paquiao is a congressman too, some think one day he will be president.

The Clean Up Begins

They say that you only see somebody’s real character when they are really up against it.  This is also true of  a group of people,  The British often talk about the Blitz Spirit in the dark months of 1940-41 when the Germans bombed London (and many other cities) for 76 nights consecutively .

Well a relative newcomer like myself cannot help but be impressed with the people of Manila. This morning, the death toll has risen to 20 (according to USA Today and the Manila Informer) and my companions have told me the number will keep rising, with some fatalities never to be reported.  In spite of this, everyone just seems to pick themselves up and get on with life.  Standing on the roof at 7 this morning, looking Southwesterly over a large chunk of MetroManila, you could hear a symphony of scraping noises,  a myriad of people with brushes and pans out on the streets cleaning away leaves, branches and the various detritus that Pedring had dumped.  Schools are open again, the motorised tricycles swarming about looking for passengers and the horn-blowing jeepneys asserting themselves on the city streets that were abandoned yesterday.

Some people claim that this was the worst typhoon for 14 years – others point towards typhoon Ondoy a couple of years ago, when the local river the Marikani rose to 23ms breaking its banks and flooding the low lying shanty settlementswere.  There were many local casualties as the waters rose .  Last night – with much of the city suffering a blackout – I lay in bed listening to the torrential rain, feeling absolutely powerless.  We had the diesel generator running most of the night, due to the infirmary three floors below.  This allowed you sporadically to monitor the river levels via twitter and the announcements of MMDA – Manilas Development Authority.    26,000 people were moved to evacuation centers when the river rose to 19m at about 8pm.   It carried on rising but much more slowly, so it was a relief to follow the announcements on Twitter of the flood waters beginning to subside around 3am ish.  In spite of the power cuts and phones being down it was interesting to see how much you could monitor what was going on through social media – check this very interesting blog for an in-depth account.

So to finish with a Philipino proverb in Tagalog – after witnessing todays heroic and quiet resolve : 

Matibay ang Walis palibhasa’y magkabigkis   A broom is sturdy because its strands are  tightly bound

and if you object to me quoting Tagalog (which I don’t know how to speak!)…. then remember He who does not love the national language is worse than a smelly fish!!!

Appeal from the Red Cross in the Phillipines

Typhoon Nesat / Pedring

 It is the first time I have had twigs, leaves and branches in the shower with me in the morning, although I know for many others it is a lot worse. Now the wind seems to have calmed down now in Manila, the rain continues, Typhoon Nesat paid us a close visit today. Even though it landed 200kms north of us – Manila was still put under storm signal two, with 9 more unfortunate areas in the Phillipines under signal three.  As you can see from the image Nesats reach is huge – extending 100’s of miles. Here in Manila we have been hit by its flailing arms – almost continuous torrential rain and very strong gusts of winds.  Halfway through this mornings meeting with my fellow Jesuits one of the largest trees here in the Loyola House of Studies was just uprooted – falling conveniently into the gap between the chapel and our bedrooms (see the video clip below). If thats what it can do from over 200kms away, God knows the damage it is causing near the centre.  According the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, there has already been $2.4billion damage this Typhoon season.

I’m told that Typhoon season can last from April – November with sometimes up to 20 being recorded, i,e those that have been upgraded from tropical storms. Winds over 100km per hour raises a storms status to a typhoon – and above 200km per hour to a super-typhoon.  We were perilously close to that but as you can see from the tracking image below the windspeed seems to have come down a bit when it hit land this morning.  The developing storm has been tracked since the end of last week – its international name is Nesat, but once it entered the Phillipines Area of Responsibility (about 400kms off coast) it was given the local name Pedring. is an excellent site for tracking events

So apart from the drama of the tree fall, and a sleepless night we are all ok. However over 100,000 were evacuated from Central Luzon, and as I write this Pedring is cutting a swathe through some of the most fertile farming areas just before harvest time. The other concern here in Manila are the rivers – two years ago our local river burst its banks and killed 60people from the shantys.  Referred to as squatters – the rubbish that is left in the drainage channels generally exacerbates any flooding – and as always it is the poorest who have the least protection.  I pray that they may be kept safe.

Below is a small clip taken from the roof here at ‘Loyola Heights’  to give you a flavour of the amount of rain and some of the milder gusts of winds (i.e when it was safe to film). Watching the force of the wind – I can see now why Bamboo is a good metaphor for being centered and flexible. Watching the huge Bamboo plants sway gracefully in the wind was mesmerising – whilst the biggest and stiffest tree was just snapped over in an instant.  Anyway when the wind settles I am going off to help with the clear up – and I hope there is no greater need down by the river.


#Update 4.30pm (9.30GMT) – Marikina River in Manila reaches critical level at 18 meters, forced evacuation in effect. Please pray for the people most affected. If needed Jesuits here will organise blankets and food later on for those who need help.

Story-Telling and Vietnam

In these first weeks of our Tertianship we are encouraged to reread the autobiography  St Ignatius, plus read other accounts of his life. Reading them in a ‘sapiential’ way rather than in a mechanistic way – i.e. listening with our hearts for the wisdom of the story.  At the moment I am making my way through  The Pilgrim Saint by the Basque historia, Tellechea Idígoras.   Alongside this private reading, as a group, we are also taking our time and sharing with each other our own life stories – in the form of presentations. Preparing these presentations itself has had hidden graces, whilst looking for photos from my youth (pre-digital / pre-internet days!) I have got back in touch with old friends, even getting a school photo from 30 years ago ( I will spare you the details).  This process has been surprisingly energising – it has reminded me of something I discovered when investigating grief counselling – a report in the BMJ about the importance of listening constructively to patients stories. I think this is now  called ‘narrative based medicine.’ This may seem obvious to you and me but the authors are critical of how so many time-strapped doctors seem to display superficial listening skills ( I think time -strapped may be the clue there!). The simple reality seems to be that storytelling, when listened to actively and empathetically can be inspiring,  encouraging, healing, clarifying and helps us to remember important truths. It is a privilege having these two weeks to do this, and also to be reimmersed in the remarkable story of Ignatius Loyola.

We are now half way through this process d and we have all shared the story of our early lives and calling finishing at the point where we entered religious life.  It has been quite moving to hear how God has worked in different ways, through different cultures from East Africa, North America, South Asia and Europe. What has struch me is how He has overcome the various resistances that we all placed in His way.

Three of our group are Vietnames Jesuits – although now working in California, Oregon and Australia respectively.  Their stories have been breathtaking -the three of them were young boys when Siagon fell to the Communists in 1975.  They all escaped in the wave of immigration known as ‘the boat people’ -they endured dehydration /starvation / Malaysian pirates / rape / death and many trials on the overcrowded and ill-equipped boats. Incredible and breathtaking stories. Estimates vary,  but the respected Professor Rummel from University of Hawaii claims that 500,000 died, mainly on the South China Sea, from 2million in that first wave of refugees.  Terrible and shocking to hear the first hand accounts. What has been a source of reflection for me, listening to my fellow tertians,  is that after this traumatic exodus / redemption / and then achieving the American Dream ( through hard work and serious levels of intelligence) they found their vocations. They had been to hell and back – achieved a life of luxury and still weren’t satisfied. On his final speech leaving Germany last night the Pope said ‘History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly‘ and that is certainly true about what appears to be the vibrancy of the Viatnemese Church. I am very grateful to have heard their stories.

A final aside – it was the plight of the Vietnamese Boat People that led to the then Jesuit General, beloved Pedro Arrupe to set up the Jesuit Refugee Service – otherwise known as JRS.

Catholic Consumerism


It was a surprise going down to our local mall, Riverbanks in Manila, as they are already playing Christmas songs (and we are not even out of September).  The songs are mostly American, I had to tolerate Mariah Carey screeching All I want for Christmas is you as I patiently waited in line to pay for three lemons. I am sure that the last – ‘you’ that came from the divas mouth lasted at least 2 min’.  Shopping malls are a big part of Phillipino culture – every city has a couple of these huge shopping centres, with seemingly one around every corner in Manila.  People slock thre at the weekends to socialise, eat, drink, browse and occasionaly actually buy things!  The richest guy here, a Chinese immigrant called Henry Sy, started the SM chain of malls from nothing – according to the Phillipino blog People he started off selling smuggled shoes on the pavement, he business is no worth $7 billion.  Going to the shopping mall on Sunday you will be in for a big suprise. In many malls Mass is celebrated before they switch on the escalators and open the shops.

Disclaimer – I am not responsible for the shaky camera work this time !  Clip taken off youtube.

These popular masses in malls were sanctioned by the Archbishop of Manila in 2007.  This could be seen as a visionary and creative attempt to literally bring religion into the marketplace, and these masses are well attended. Mass attendance seems strong to me here, but I have been told that in a population that recently surpassed 100million, only about 15% regularly partipate in the sacraments. The churches seem full because there are relatively few churches for such a large Catholic population.  So maybe it is necessary to bring mass to the people in the form of these mall masses –  but I have reservations.  Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated only in churches and other places of worship – too restrictive – and starting in the 1950s, Church authorities began allowing Eucharistic celebrations in schools, to get children to participate. Now mass in shopping malls has arrived in the Philippines because on week-ends and statutory holidays these places are literally invaded by hundreds of thousands of people.

Good idea or not? Again I can see both sides of the argument, bringing it to the people versus the banalasation of a sacred and dignified rite. I think a crucial role for the Church is in offering a critical stance on consumerism. In fact this maybe more focused and helpful than just ranting against the evils of secularism.  The recent General Congregation of the Jesuits stated that the consumerist cultures in which people live today do not foster passion, but rather addiction and compulsion. They demand resistance (GC35 decree 2/21).  – and  a compassionate response. My own country – Britain – has a real problem with child well-being and unhappiness, so much so that UNICEF has just released a report  on the affects of consumerism on family life – basically expressing concern over patterns of ‘obsessive consumerism’ and how they affect children :

The Government must now show strong leadership in order to support families to fight back against the ways in which the UK’s materialistic culture embeds inequality in our society, affects family time and relationships, and has a negative impact on children’s well-being.  UNICEF  Child Well Being in the Spain, Uk & Sweden

So Mass in malls? commercialisation of Christmas ?  what do you think……

The Equinox in Manila

Manila is 14degrees North of Equator

So today is the Equinox – the sun directly over the Equator – equal hours of light and dark all over the planet.  Autumnal equinox if you are in the North and Spring if you are in the South.  Doesn’t affect us that much in Manila – being in the Tropics we have minimal seasonal variation.  It seems to get dark here -very quickly at around 5pm every night.  So it was amusing reading in one of the papers today that they declared this is the start of winter in Manila – today is a hot sweaty humid 33C with accuweather telling me it has a real feel of 40C.

So for those not quite at GCSE Geography stage, remember seasons occur because the Earth spins on an axis that leans about 23 degrees off plumb during its orbit around the Sun.  That tilt is exaggerated the further north or south you are and when  tilts away from the sun = winter starting now for the Northern Hemispher) and summer arrives when it tilts back. Twice each year Earth swings into a position where the tilt goes broadside to the glare, and the the sun experiences a moment of planetary grace where it slips directly overhead at the equator. That moment is the equinox.  If you are far North – i.e. Alaska before the weekend ends, night will trump day and travelling even a few miles farther north means that it grows darker rather than lighter. And that will hold sway until the balance reverses in March.


Miss Universe & the Theologians

Could someone please take the invisible picture off me or I may stop smiling.....


During these first weeks most of our mornings are full with  conferences / presentations /seminars.  So the twelve of us tertians (& masters) were sitting there listening to a top class presentation on Phillipino Culture when we kept on being interrupted with howls of laughter and excited shouting from a room nearby.  I thought to myself this must be a boisterous theology class or maybe some sort of student elections?  It was announced at Lunch that it was the theologians watching the final stages, live, of …… the Miss Universe Contest.

Sorry ……. Miss Universe? Surely those guys should be up to their eyeballs in Aquinas, or at least Rahner or Amalados ( to be contextual & maybe controversial)

However since Shamcey Supsup, representing the Phillipines, was announced third runner up – it has dominated the conversation on the streets of Manila and yes even in the Jesuit Community.  We even had her mentioned in a homily from our Tertian Master.   As well as national pride etc…. what everyone has been talking about is her answer to the following question that was posed to her by one of the judges – Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person that you love? Why or why not?

Shamcey’s Answer: “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person I love is God, who created me. I have my faith and my principles, and this is what makes me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God, too.

Sure Fr Tim, I would love to join you and your Jesuit brothers for dinner ......

I’m not sure how this answer would go down with our experts in inter-religious dialogue. In the UK mixed marriages are more common – but it certainly was a brave answer, and I admire her for sharing them. She seems to have confused the judges – but not the Phillipinos – they loved it and they are very proud of her. A licenced architect, who came top in her class and graduates with a magnum cum laude from the University of the Phillipines you can see why.  In Europe we can be a bit sniffy about beauty pageants – they’re sexist, no place in the modern world etc.etc.  However I will leave the last word to a Phillipino friend – ‘To some degree, the candidates we send year in and year out to these international beauty pageants are no different from the intellectuals we fly in to science and math Olympiads worldwide, the athletes we support in international meets, and to the artists and performers we applaud in the global stage. Aren’t they all simply ambassadors of the Philippines and its people?

P.S. I have invited Shamcey to come and join us for dinner at the Tertianship one night via twitter ….. so far I haven’t got a reply …. but you know me the eternal optimist….

The tertianship is based in the not inconsiderable grounds of the Ateneo de Manila, the leading Jesuit University here in the Phillipines.  Officially called ‘Loyola Heights’ it is an extensive Jesuit ‘ghetto’ – harbouring numerous institutions (see the map).

 I am staying in the Loyola House of Studies in the North of the Map (building looks like a bendy H)

One of the oldest institutions is the Manila Observatory and it has a fascinating history. I was excited when I first heard about it – thinking it might be possible to do a bit of astronomy – but it soon clicked there would not be much astronomical activity in one of the most densly populated cities in the world – light pollution would put pay to that.

No,  the Manila Observatory was the first institution in Asia to do some serious meteorology and typhoon tracking.  Valued and subsidised by the Spanish Crown during its time of occupation – it was one of the only ‘church’ institutions to be supported similarly by the Americans when they replaced the Spanish, recognising is value. In fact the Americans were delighted to see the work the Jesuits and their employess were doing in producing a comprehensive atlas of the 7000+ islands.  Valuable information such as sea depths, mineral deposits prompted the Americans to pay for the publication of the Atlas, with the impressive Fr Algue to travel to New York to oversee the publication.

If you are lucky enough to be above it – this is what a typhoon looks like!

Anyway what has this to do with me? Well I was entrusted with a treasure trove to bring over to Manila.  The archivist ofthe British province passed on an album with a collection of photographs – over a hundred years old – taken by a young English Jesuit who worked at the Manila Observatory between 1902-06. These photos are extremely valuable, the young Fr Brown obviously travelled extensively and widely and took many photographs of the islands and the people.Incredible images at a time when few had cameras. These photos have been fallen on by a current incumbent of the observatory, an Irish Jesuit Fr Peter Walpole.  He is recording environmental degradation as well as working with many of the local indigenous people on Mindanao – so the photos could prove an important record for him and maybe also be used in advocacy on behalf of the environment.  Fr Walpole has a very impressive ministry – he set up the ASIA Forest Network, and often works for and alongside the UN.  I think I will write a more comprehensive blog about him at a later date – but for now check out one of his websites at – I also hope to investigate more about Fr Brown and post some of his amazing photos on line.

More fascinating information about the work of the observatory can be found at Including the story of the first Jesuit to succesfully forecast Typhoons and the many lives he saved in Manila.  Anyway, thanks for reading and please leave a comment.

Smiles & Balut

Smily Phillines

They appreciate Scouse humour


In my brief experience so far, The Phillipines is  the smiliest place I have been to.  By nature I tend to smile a lot anyway -in the UK that could get me into trouble, if I was imprudent. In the ‘Big Smoke’ I had perfected the split-second-glance-away if my smile was misinterpreted and imminent danger threatened.  Here in Manila it just seems to set off more smiles – like a chain reaction.  Sure smiles can be insincere, or they can be to save face – but it is a nice change to the often surly streets of North London!  Maybe I will christen Manila – The Big Smile.   To top it all – a smiling policeman came over to me in the airport and offered me his pen, when I was doing my best jetlagged impression of a hapless foreigner trying to fill out my Embarkation Card.  He was armed so I did remember to give him his pen back – smile or no smile, the guy had a gun.

You may be suprised to hear the smile soon evaporated when I arrived at the Jesuit Residence.  A party was in full swing celebrating the ordination of new Jesuit deacons. I was warmly welcomed and ushered over to fill my plate with all sorts of delicious food. Sitting down, I  started to peel, what I assumed to be a hard boiled egg.  It was slightly alarming to see it was black in places, ‘Is this egg off?’ I asked a Vietnamese Jesuit…. ‘no its fine’ was the reply – so I bravely carried on – not wanting to lose face, aware that I was being scrutinised. ‘Strange it is also crunchy and quite tough’ – I thought.  I had stumbled upon Balut.  If you are squeamish stop reading….

Eggs with Legs

Balut, or ‘eggs with legs’, is considered a delicacy here and reserved for special occasions. It is basically a duck embryo…. I hadn’t done my homework… you are meant to season with salt, suck out the flavoursome soup, before starting the serious munching.  I made it half way before discreetly disposing of the remains. Since then the food has been very good – but that was my baptism of fire.  As one sage said – once you’ve crossed balut off your list, other exotic foods won’t seem quite so exotic.

The first thing I have eaten in the Phillipines!

Back to smiling – just a couple of things I have learnt from a brief bit of research.  Babys are born with the ability to smile – most behaviour is learnt visually, by watching and copying – not smiling. Even babies born blind smile.  A second related fact, babies smile in their sleep from birth, although it can take 4-6 weeks to do so awake. So smile – it uses less muscles than frowning and it is more attractive than makeup! Oh and smily people are more likely to get a job …. there are a few vacancies in the balut incubating trade here if anyone is interested.


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