Category: Philippines


Pope-Francis-South-KoreaAs Pope Francis beatifies 124 martyrs from Korea today, with huge crowds turning out in Seoul to meet the Pope, it may be opportune to look at unique origins of the church in Korea.  Catholicism has grown rapidly in South Korea from 1% of the population ten years ago to over 10% now.  South Korea is a fascinating country that has seen rapid development and economic growth.  It is  the only country in the history of the world that has gone from being a foreign aid recipient to being a major foreign aid donor in only one generation.  It also has huge ‘soft power’ now, not only as the home of Samsung. and being a technology leader in many fields – but also in the popularity of their films, soap operas and music – Remember Gangnam Style? K-Pop has overtaken Japan’s J Pop as the music on the iphones in the Pacific Rim and further afield.  I remember when I was in the Philippines I would often ask the young people which country they  would most like to visit, and the answer universally wasn’t US, or the UK but South Korea.

The origins of the Catholic Church in Korea are fascinating.  Christianity has struggled to make inroads into Asia – and the exceptions – Philippines, East Timor which received Spanish and Portuguese missionaries,  the Korean Catholic Church grew for the first hundred years without any priests or visits from missionaries. Christianity was brought to Korea by a Korean diplomat who had encountered the books of Matteo Ricci in the court in Beijing.  Ricci is an incredible character, an Italian Jesuit, who missionary work was so successful that he gained access to the Forbidden City – the first westerner to do so.  His appreciation of Chinese culture and the peoples admiration of him as a learned scholar gave Ricci great inroads.  He was the first to translate Kong Fuzi’s teachings into Latin – thus coining the name Confucius – Ricci became a bridge between the east and the west.

ricciThe book that probably marks his greatest legacy was ‘The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven’ which argues that Confucianism and Christianity are not opposed and in fact are remarkably similar in key ways.  It was a way of explaining Christian doctrine into Confucian thought and proved to be very successful.  Ricci used this treatise in his missionary effort to convert Chinese intellectuals, men who were educated in Confucianism and the Chinese classics.   It was this book that brought Christianity to Korea in 1603, where it was to grow, without access to the sacraments, without any active priestly ministry.


bbcradio4Today we were very lucky to host the Radio 4 Sunday Service here in the Holy Name Manchester .  It has a UK audience of 2.5 million, and  is streamed live all over Europe, as well as being available to listen again for 7 days on the BBC Website.  On the internet it is a global audience.   Because it is live – the timings are very tight – so a couple of times my homily was shortened (I bet the students wish that a Radio 4 producer came to all our masses !)  Here is the original homily I gave on the difference between optimism and hope. 

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast

There is a profound difference between optimism and hope. Today is about hope – the feast of Christ the Universal King – He is the reason for our hope.  Being around so many students here in Manchester fills me with optimism – their energy, their idealism, their passion.  But optimism can be fragile – we can easily get sucked down into swamps of cynicism, or wallow in a culture that delights in mocking.  We have just heard how they mocked Jesus on the cross ‘  If you are the King of the Jews save yourself’  Jesus is not the king of one ethnic group he is the universal King – In the midst of his suffering even the good thief senses this and rebukes them from his own cross – ‘Have you no fear of God?  – and his reward is the promise of Jesus the King of Heaven  – ‘ Today you will be with me in paradise’.  Can you imagine how the good thief’s heart soared with Hope on hearing this unexpected promise? Hope is deeply rooted, Hope is more resilient than optimism, it doesn’t snap in the face of storms, nor does it wither away amidst hostility.   Christian Hope is anchored in two places – firstly our belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so we can hope in the face of inevitable death, we can even hope in the face of disaster.  And secondly today we anticipate what the Catholic writer J.R.R Tolkien calls the ‘Return of the King’.  That we look forward to Christ the King returning to bring about a new era of justice and peace for all people.  When it seems that there is too much suffering and evil is flourishing, leaders are getting away with oppressing and killing their own people – belief in the return of Jesus is not just wishful thinking, delusional – but is a wellspring of hope.

As a university chaplain I see the potency of that hope every day.  Here in Manchester, our chaplaincy family consist of students from all over the world. They come from so many different situations, and what unites them is their faith, sometimes in the face of terrible persecution. Last week a young man from Pakistan told me how his family home was burnt down 6 months ago in anti-Christian Riots, students from Nigeria tell me with pride about the courage of their families who are going to church today even though there is a continual threat of bombing, the faith and devotion of a student from Syria, who is trying to help her family in Damascus is a constant inspiration.  These are intelligent, professional, scholars, many of them scientists who appear to have an unshakeable hope in their hearts.

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio

A couple of years ago I was sent to the Philippines for my last year of training as a Jesuit.  Part of that experience was to live in the shanty towns in Manila for a few weeks.  The shanty town was very densely populated – with many people building houses on stilts out into Manila Bay.  When I arrived they were recovering from a very strong typhoon that had destroyed many houses. It was a remarkable experience, to briefly share the lives of these people.  Two things struck me – firstly how resilient they were.  They did not have much – so in the typhoon they had not lost much, and as we helped them rebuild their houses there was great joy and freedom.  Secondly how that resilience was rooted in faith and hope.  This is so evident in the recent disaster in the Philippines. It is has been remarkable seeing how extended families have pulled together, we have seen this these weeks in Cebu and Leyte, how families have travelled to the disaster areas to help feed and rebuild their loved ones. The communities that are present and able to immediately provide that hope are not the politicians but the churches.

Here in Britain we need communities of hope – our students here in Manchester have started the first student-run foodbank in the country.  It is needed because so many have lost the support of family – have no extended family they can turn.   But the student community here gives them hope, when they have to choose between heating their homes and eating – it is our foodbank that they can turn to which helps them through a short-term crisis, without creating dependency and also signposting them to other voluntary support groups.   And it is remarkable how much of this civil society is faith based.  They are communities of hope.

We are called to build communities of hope, the church is called to take risks and we can’t just do it from the safety of the internet. There is a fascinating book by Sherry Turkle, an MIT Professor, called Alone Together – Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.  So let us expect and give more to each other. Pope Francis is challenging us to get out of our digital bubbles, and also to stop hiding behind our ceremonies – and go out and spread our hope especially to the poor. He has said the Church that remains in the Sacristy gets sick.  We are being challenged to become a church that carries the hope that is rooted in our hearts to the edges and margins of society. Are we up to that challenge?


You can hear  the whole service by clicking on this link

Storms & Solidarity


Two years ago – as part of my  ‘tertianship’ (last year of Jesuit formation) in the Philippines, I lived for a few weeks in Navotas, one of the shanty towns in Manila.  Some of the families lived in very simple houses on stilts in Manila Bay.  We arrived during the aftermath of a strong typhoon.  Two things struck me, firstly the incredible resilience the people had in the face of these frequent storms.  Secondly, because they had so little – how quickly they were able to rebuild their lives.   We made a small video to appeal for help.

I spent a wonderful 6 month in the Philippines, fell in love with country and the people. It was also fascinating to hear how it was the Jesuits who were the first to track typhoons in Asia from the Manila Observatory (click here to read more about that).  It is very sad to hear the effects of the recent Typhoon. In a county which seems sadly used to frequent disasters, this one is at a higher level. When I was there –  I was very impressed by how the network of Jesuit education institutions coordinated disaster relief  (click here).  So when the Jesuits received a letter from the Provincial  requesting help today – I thought I would it worth posting his letter here. You have to click on the link to open the PDF.

Philippines Appeal

Link to donate online  Indicate ‘for the Philippines Appeal’ in text box


So I have to leave the Philippines after a wonderful rich six months.  I would have liked to stay longer… but it is always good to leave  somewhere wanting more!!  I think it might be a joy of the Jesuit vocation – in the last 10 months I have lived in London, Tanzania, The Outer Hebrides and the Philippines and have been sad to leave all these places. Anyway I am on my way to India for three months and am excited about the prospect of visiting Fr Eric in Manvi and seeing how the school for ‘untouchables’ has developed over that last 6 years (since I lasted visited).  All the experiences give a sense of how magnificent the universal church is …. and how privileged we are to be able to live and be inserted into the local communities.  In Manila I had a strong sense of what an ex-pat bubble most of the foreigners lived in. They couldn’t believe it when I told them of living in the shanty towns, mountain villages, and leper colony islands!! And in each place receiving a beautiful welcome, eating and sleeping in the peoples homes, sharing a little of their joys and worries.

So to summarize a few thoughts on my time here.

Fr Rentax and the Sisters in Cebu… Joy!

1) Philippines is the friendliest country I have visited.  Everywhere smiles, wether it be children playing in th estreets, or pedicab drivers, or even soldiers and police. Big grins, obvious delight when you share greetings, unparalleled glee when you share a karaoke song, or pull a ‘Mr Bean’ face.  And this isn’t just me getting carried away. A recent survey by HSBC of expats living in 31 countries listed Philippines as top in feeling welcome at work and second in social life, work-life balance, and making friends. It is no coincidence that the Philippines is the text capital of the world.

2) A ‘Catholic’ Country more sacramentalised than evangelized. This is an intriguing comment I read in a report written by the Philippine Bishops conference.  Signs of devotion are everywhere – masses in the shopping walls, the black nazarene, the santa nino, longest Christmas season in the world…. but there is still a question about how much the ‘Gospel Values’ have penetrated day to day life.  For me the biggest sign of these would be corruption and graft, a disappointing political class (many educated by the Jesuits),  a certain turbo-consumerism manifested in an incredible array of shopping malls and the popularity of what I would refer to as ‘feudal’ day time TV shows (where a big-time host dishes out cash prizes whilst humiliating many guests).  What is the solution?  Maybe a reform of the clergy could be a good starting point – someone told me that some priest are being leftbehind by a better-educated laity, and there persists the stereotype of the lazy priest – mahjong before mass instead of preparing a good homily and cockfighting after mass…..

3) Craziest Names …  There is an interesting culture of names.  With large familes – kids are often given nicknames at a young age which stick. So the president is Ninoy, the Jesuit in charge of the Ateneo is Jet.  It is not unusual to be invited for dinner and find out that the Guy called ‘Bong’ is actually the CEO of a large company. Or to be in a meeting with a guy, obviously rich and powerful, dressed in suit who introduces himself as ‘Baby’ with a big grin on his face…..

4) Social strength – Power of the Family and Barkada.  The way people look after each other and families care for each other is impressive … including the ‘barkada’ …. the friendship group. There is a balancing act here – as too much social pressure can be stifling and have its dark side. At first it was puzzling to see how young people were prepared to sacrifice personal dreams for the sake of the family – particular in terms of educational goals. it is not ideal – but what is impressive is the desire to look  after each other. It was’t unusual to be sitting with a family and have one or two children from the local area wander in, join the table and be fed no questions asked!  The phenomenon of OFW (Overseas foreign workers) is honoured at a level I have not seen elsewhere.  They even have their own dedicated lanes and lounges at the airport. It is easy to see why they are valued – the huge amount of remittances they send back keeps the country afloat!   From a western perspective I have a growing feeling that the social isolation and fragmentation that  is not worth our promotion of  a culture of hyper-individualism. The Philippines is now the only country in the world where divorce is illegal (although unfortunately annulments are too expensive and out of reach for many).

5)Disaster Prone but not yet Disaster Resiliant.  Recently reported as the most disaster prone in South East Asia - whilst I have been here there have been two major typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, flooding…. The response from ‘civil society’ is very impressive – a generous and rich diaspora, dedicated volunteers, often coordinated by the church. But the real question has to be why are the structures not in place on a local and national political level….another lamentable example of corrupt politicians at a local and national level.  Of course a mitigating factor is that we live at a time where the urban populations is out stripping the rural population for the first time all over the world. I think this urban migration is deadly – for quality of life but also it is those in the shanty towns hit the hardest when the typhoon sweeps in.

All in all I will miss this wonderful country!

There is a Filipino tradition of showing respect by raising the back of anothers hand and placing it on your forehead is called ‘Mano Po’ here. And it is very charming – once you get used to it.  When people find out you are a priest (the Jesuits very rarely wear clerical dress here) – they usually come and do mano po!  I was in a restaurant a month back and halfway through the meal the waitress asked if I was a priest having overheard my friends call me father – when I replied yes, ‘Mano po’ went on – quickly followed by the other waiters and even the chef came out!
Another surprising ‘mano-po’ moment was when I had knee surgery six weeks ago. As I was lying on the (undersized) trolley read to be wheeled into to the theater both surgeons came up to ask me for Mano Po.  Lying awkwardly on the trolley in my surgical gown, with a drip hanging out of my arm, I flapped my arms about giving ‘Mano po’.  Then the lead surgeon also asked me for a  blessing at which stage the machine started beeoing alarmingly – indicating my blood pressure had shot up to 200!!  I think behind my smiles I was quite unsettled that I was being asked to give him a blessing – surely the hospitals chaplain should have been their blessing me!
I think it is a beautiful tradition – and you often see the youngest in the family when they arrive acknowledging their grandparents and parents in such a fashion.  I think they maybe horrified if they saw how so many old people are treated in the West.  When staying with families I have often praised how strong the family is here in the Philippines but quite often although they agree – they also are quick to point that there can be a dark side too.  Too much pressure at times? Too much respect for certain authority? Perhaps…..
It is fascinating to see how high up the Power Distance Index the Philippines lies.  Developed by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede this basically measures how much a country respects authority and values hirearchies. The Philippines has the 4th highest power distance index in the world at 94. Thats suprisingly higher than China (88) and many Arab countries (80)…. the UK (35) is well down.  Now to be fair there are many countries without a score so it is not yet a universal measure, but still quite revealing. (Top of the List = Malaysia, Bottom = Austria)
So how does that translate into behaviour? according to in a high power distance cultures the following may be observed:

. Those in authority openly demonstrate their rank.
. Subordinates are not given important work and expect clear guidance from above.
. Subordinates are expected to take the blame for things going wrong.
. The relationship between boss and subordinate is rarely close/personal.
. Politics is prone to totalitarianism.
. Class divisions within society are accepted.

So you can see how this could become dangerous in a strongly Catholic country like the Philippines.  It is precisely when the Church allows a clerical culture to thrive that people are attracted to church for the wrong reasons, for status rather than service.  To be fair among the Jesuits I have seen very little of this. Before I arrived I heard that some of the Bishops have a reputation of being prince-bishops but I have to say that each of the Bishops I have met have been very impressive. Archbishop Tagle – the new Archbishop of Manila, who works closely with the Jesuits here, especially in media work (click link) is talked of by some as a possible candidate to be the first Asian Pope.  I will certainly miss ‘Mano Po’ when I leave but I won’t miss being called ‘Father’ all the time…..


A week of Ashes!


Wearing her ashes with pride (in Kabul Kabul)

Apologies for the blog silence over the last week – I had a fairly exhausting tour of some of the 51 chapels / ‘destinos’ celebrating the Ash Weds liturgy. It was a fascinating experience. The island has a population of over 90,000 (but only 15 cars / jeeps).  The numbers stem from the time when it was the worlds biggest leper colony (6,000+).  The doctors, nurses and patients all brought their families with them – so the population has grown since. Now there are only 6 patients with leprosy and they are confined to a hospital ward.  We celebrate mass with them once a week and last night I took my laptop and projector and we watched Jurassic Park together.  I think it might have scared them a bit too much!  But they were very excited and lots of hugs when I arrived and left.

Some of the remoter villages are electricity free, I remember one night showing a group of about 50 villagers webpages that I had saved on my laptop – their first experience of the internet!  The majority of the population in these areas are referred to as ‘IP’s’ (indigenous peoples).  The original inhabitants of the island they fled in fear to the remoter parts when the lepers started arriving.  The Jesuits have now turned their attention to helping them – with a literacy program ably assisted by the impressive Cart Wheel Foundation. The parish priest Fr Lito told me that this is already working wonders in terms of self-esteem and confidence.  When he first would go to the areas the IP’s would hide behind the coconut trees, too shy to come and talk. Now they are discussing and planning ways in which they can strengthen their communities.

The view from the Jesuit Community – the church built by the lepers. From this parish church the other 51 chapels are served by boat, jeep and foot

As a priest it has, paradoxically,  been one of the most enjoyable beginnings of Lent I can imagine.  As always the hospitality was wonderful – lots of crabs and freshly caught fish.  I suppose fasting is less meaningful when you are living a fairly subsistence lifestyle and life is more precarious for many as there are less fish and more competition for stock from technologically advanced mainlanders.

I have had my leg in a brace since my operation four weeks ago – so this became a useful prop for homilies.  The discipline of wearing a bandage and a leg brace to allow healing has its parallels with lent.   And slowly taking it off and unravelling the bandage certainly kept the children’s attention!  Many of them staring at me anyway – as though I was from another planet. It was said that for the younger children I was the first white person to visit their village.   One phenomenon that was unusual was that after 10 masses I would explain how I was available for confession – not one person took me up on it.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation certainly seems to be practiced more over here than in the West – so this lack of interest was a surprise.  I have since learnt that many priests have commented on the lack of the sense of personal sin amongst the people – which is an inheritance of the lepers colony.  I suppose that maybe a psychology of outcasts from the ‘morality’ of the world.  At one chapel – after mass they came rushing up to me – At last ! I thought, getting ready to celebrate the sacrament, but no they wanted to know if any of my friends wanted to buy their own island……

3 Million Pesos – (£50,000) – a snip if you ask me!  Anyone interested?

(Highlights of my week on video below)

Pride and Prejudice


Although Culion has changed dramatically since its establishment as the ‘worlds biggest leper colony’ according to a history of the island that I am reading, there is still stigma attached to its name. I was told about an inhabitant of the island who recently appeared on one of the Philippines ubiquitous daytime TV shows, when he was asked where he was from he told the presenters that he was from Coron (a nearby island).  ‘Aren’t you from Culion’  the presenter replied puzzled, ‘No Coron’, he lied.   This denial of his origins caused outrage back here on Culion and lead to a stream of text messages threatening him and warning him not to think of returning!  The school here has an excellent street-dancing troupe, and they recently won the regional awards and can compete at a national level.  There success has provoked resentment and one of the proud mums reported that at a recent competition their winning time was heckled as being ‘only an island of lepers’.

Another example of the lingering prejudice is the difficulties the local fisherman experience. All the boats have their place of origin painted on the rear of the boat. San Ignacio is the only boat from Culion that is allowed to moor up in the various moorings on Coron – any other boat registered in Culion has to jostle for a place with outsiders boats.  The stigma of Culion seems also to be a barrier for one of the main strategies for the economic development of the island : ecotourism. The Jesuits have opened a hotel called Hotel Maya  – which by all means seems to be profitable. The idea behind the project is to develop eco-tourism as well as providing training for some of the local students at the Jesuit College in the tourist industry. The Hotel is even getting a listing in the next Lonely Planet, and are attracting foreigners already.  The difficulty is attracting visitors from Manila, Cebu or Davo, where the name Culion still has a stigma.

However when you walk around the island you get a sense of prosperity. There are many new motorbikes sitting proudly on the roadside, the shops are very well stocked, the island co-operative which is administered by the Jesuits always has people inside.  It is certainly true that the ‘stigma’ of Culion has also been profitable.  Money has been generously donated by NGO’s from Spain, Japan, Austria, Germany.  This has had a dual effect though – as well as prosperity and the many projects started up, I have been told that there may also be a ‘dependency culture’, or even as one local suggested a sense of entitlement. Obviously, being here for a short time it is difficult to see that myself, although reading the diaries of a previous parish priest there is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence.

Meanwhile I am just enjoying every minute in this little piece of paradise. Beauty all around – the nature – the people.  At one of my masses to day – in a remote village – everyone bar one of the 40-odd congregation were women!  The catechist – Kiboy – came up to me with a big grin on his face to tell me when we arrived that they said I reminded them of James Bond…… it makes a difference as usually I get Mr Bean!!  (Maybe they were getting me confused with Johnny English who is very popular here!)  Next week I have an intense schedule of ash weds masses (beginning on monday and ending on friday).  By Boat – Jeep and Foot.  The day and time are very flexible out here!!


This last week in Culion has been a delightful experience.  A fascinating place with an impressive Jesuit presence, an important mission and a unique history.  The former leper colony on the edge of the West Philippine Sea (or the South China Ocean) is now a buzzing town with a population of 10,000+. Breakthroughs in leprosy in the 1940’s and 80’s  means that the disease can now be controlled, if not fully curable. So for many on the island in reality it is only a memory. However there is still a ward in the hospital with a few ‘abandoned’ patients suffering from the disease. It was a memorable experience sharing the mass with them on Valentines Day.  It also struck me that last Sunday’s gospel was about Jesus curing the leper – slightly awkward timing for me.  How does a visitor and an outsider preach sensitively about such a Gospel especially when I had only a few days to get to know some of the islanders?   Luckily the dilemma was resolved by having a Jesuit novice preach as part of his ‘parish experiment.’ He did a great job.

Culion also happens to be the setting of one of the most beautiful parishes that I have visited.  The parish has its own boat (or Bangka) called ‘San Ignacio’.  I was met at the airport and taken to a jetty where the boat was awaiting me.  The parish has 51 chapels associated with it in surrounding islands – it is a wonderful experience going to celebrate mass over the shimmering water, passing over coral reefs, and then as the water changes from emerald green to deep blue we glide past the many (Japanese owned) pearl farms that float in the inlets and passages.  Schools of flying fish leap out of the water in the distance and you glimpse the occasional crocodile peering out greedily from the mangroves.  One of the two nuns on the island told me they were followed in their small boat by a huge croc the other week – a stimulus to praying the rosary!  It is wonderful to stop the boat on the way home for half an hour of snorkelling. I was very impressed with the corals and the array of curious fish that come right up to your mask, the varieties and colours of the coral seemed pristine t o me, but I was told by the parish priest that there has been a lot of damage due to cyanide fishing.

Loyola College Prom night - bringing a bit of glamour to Culion

There are two young Jesuits on the island – one who is parish priest and the other director of the Jesuit College – Loyola College of Culion.  It was a pleasant surprise to be invited to the ‘Junior and Senior Prom’ of the College on Friday night. The students looked stunning in their dresses and tuxedos, and I was glad to have avoided being invited to be one of the judges…. One of the novices ran the gauntlet of having to choose the Prom King and Queen, whereas I could enjoy telling everyone I met how beautiful / handsome they looked.  The one beauty salon on the island seems to have been very busy considering some of the impressive hairstyles on show.

I have to admit High School Proms are a very ‘American’  phenomenon for me – and quite alien to my experience.  On reflection it is a great testament to the commitment of the Jesuits and the success of their college that such a celebration is a regular occurrence.  It certainly challenges the stigma and the stereotype of Culion as being the ‘Isle of Despair’.

Below is a small clip to give you a sense of the sights and celebrations of Culion! 

“The Last Frontier”

I will be spending the next three weeks in the remote Palawan Islands in Southern Phillipines (painted blue).   In what is called our ‘elective’ experience, I will be available to help at the Jesuit Mission in Culion (one of the 1700 islands that make up the archipelago).  There are 51 chapels that are served from the parish at Culion – scattered around the islands as well as a High school and College.  Having had knee surgery a couple of weeks ago – the consultant in the hospital was somewhat relieved I am not heading back into the Mountain Province.  Having just discarded my crutches – the mangroves, beaches and coral reefs of Palawan will be much more conducive to recovery than the rice terraces and mud slides of Kalinga!  (I hope!!)  The islands of Palawan are called “The Last Frontier” because it is the last unsettled area in the Philippines. Home to many tribal groups such as the Tau Batu, the Batak, the Tagbanua, and one such Palawano tribe was just discovered as late as 1997.

I must confess that I also noticed that Palawan is rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the best island destination in East and Southeast Asia region in 2007, and the 13th best island in the world having “incredibly beautiful natural seascapes and landscapes.  I have been told that I will have a small boat and that maybe inbetween masses – baptisms – catechesis – there will be a chance for a spot of snorkelling or even scuba diving! Considering the famous French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau  once described the province as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world – it would be rude not to take up the opportunity! However before I get too excited – I have also been told – that the islands have a large population of reptiles such as Cobras, Pythons, and Monitor Lizards which range in size from 3 ft. to 8 ft in length.  It is also home to a sub-species of the Asian Scorpion which is found nowhere else in the Philippines. This Scorpion grows to be an average length of 7 inches…….

Someone had to volunteer to make the Parish rounds....

Finally just an interesting note specifically about the history of Culion and the Jesuit Mission there.  The treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, wherein Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for 20 million dollars. The Americans wished to establish some form of public health policy in the Philippines as part of their long-termplan. The traditional belief was that the maintenance of public health required the isolation of cases of leprosy from the rest of the public. After an investigation of a number of sites, the island of Culion was selected as a segregation colony .  The government enacted a policy of  the compulsory segregation of the lepers, and confinement and treatment in Culion. Between 1906 and 1910 they rounded up 5,303 leprosy afflicted individuals and brought them to the colony. The Jesuits accompanied them – and established the parish with its network of chapels on other islands, as well as a high school and Loyola College. You can read more about its fascinating history here.   The beautiful Jesuit church in Culion (below), was built by the lepers.   Although leprosy in Culion has been totally eradicated, it is said the stigma still remains.   I don’t know how much I will be able to update the blog the next three weeks –  so don’t be too alarmed if there is a period of ‘radio silence!’.  Once again thanks for all the interest shown and all the comments – either by email or left on the blog itself.

God’s Boxer?



Blessed are the ….. er….. peace makers….

Hot off the press – the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines has just announced that they intend to enlist  Manny Pacquiao as a ‘Bible Ambassador’.  Pacquiao – as I’m sure you realise – is considered by some to be the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time. The small Filipino Boxer – is the first and only boxer to win world titles in eight different weight divisions.  From a background of acute poverty, which forced him to drop out of education, he has fought his way to the top.  Pacquiao has always been upfront about his Catholic Faith – within the ring, he frequently makes the sign of the cross and every time he comes back from a successful fight abroad, he attends a thanksgiving Mass in Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila. (click here to see a previous blog about the intense devotion to the Black Nazarene). They say that there are two things that bring the country to a halt, when Ateneo (the Jesuit University) play De la Salle at basketball, and when the ‘Pacman’ fights.

Pacquiao – currently a congressman in his spare time – has the reputation for being devout in the sporting world – although some Jesuits have a wry smile when I ask them about this.  It seems as though he had a bit of reputation for a certain lifestyle in his early days, but the last few years has cleaned up his act – which many people put down to the influence of his wife ‘Jinky’. His role will be part of an impressive campaign by the Bishops who want to make the Bible more available to the poor. Their aim is to produce 5 million Bibles for 5 million poor Filipinos and Catholics within 7 years.  The plan is to subsidise them at P50… (about 80 pence each).  From a British perspective it is nice to see a celebrity who is serious about his faith – in an unaffected way – able to express this faith with confidence that he will be respected.  In the UK – there is more cynicism, sneering and angry atheism about. Its famously not politically correct to ‘do God’.  In that we are out of step with the vast majority of the worlds population, whether Christian, Muslim or any faith. 

It would be fair to point out that Boxing may have more in common with the violence of the Old Testament that the ethos of ‘turn the other cheek’ in the New Testament. Boxing doesn’t sit comfortably with middle-class sensibilities – and spirituality in the ‘West’ seems to becoming more and more an exclusive ‘middle class industry’.   Boxing’s working class roots have always had difficulty assimilating into a middle class value system – even with the big money, prime time pay-cheques. But the Church has often been one of the few reliable presences in the urban slums – and parish gyms were a way introducing discipline to boys, as well as channelling some of the adolescent anger and rage that can be magnified by poverty. It was often the priest as a mentor/teacher who could straddle those two socioeconomic classes least awkwardly. In my own Christian Brothers school in Liverpool – a legend of a teacher ‘Jimmy Heighton’ who  celebrated his 50th year teaching when I was a student had been on an Olympic Boxing Team.  My memory of teaching  in London is that one of the most effective ways of keeping the boys out of gangs was by getting them on the football or rugby pitch.  So before we become too ‘sniffy’ about this unholy alliance of pugilism and the Word – in an Olympic year lets remember the virtues that come from sporting discipline too!  Would more gyms have made a difference to the London riots?


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