Tag Archive: People


I couldn’t stop laughing

AMDG

The nearby city of Hubli here in Karnataka held a unique competition last week ”An Abuse without Offending Contest”.  Its goal  - to judge intelligent and inventive ways of abusing each other.    I had to check the date of the newspaper – it wasn’t April the First!  350 participants took to the stage either solo or as a duo (husband-wife, friends or brother-sister). The type of abuse was strictly controlled - participants were not allowed to use filthy language or hurt others with regard to caste, creed, religion or sex but could insult others using  English, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam or any other Indian language. Evidently the aim of the competition was ‘to find a peaceful language in today’s troubled times.’ The winners were an elderly couple, Savita and Gangadhar Hiremath, married for more than five decades. They argued, quarreled and abused each other – and had the audience in gales of laughter with their inventive and witty insults, and they walked away with the first prize. Their prize – a garland of flowers.”We’re happy to win the first prize. On the stage we stayed natural and used language which we use in our daily life,” said the couple in unison at the end of the event.

When I was a teenager we used to learn Monty Python scripts off by heart and recite them at the back of the coach on the way back from sporting fixtures (its a bit embarrassing to admit this now).  One of our favorite sketches was the ‘I’d like to have an argument’ sketch, where the hapless Michael Palin, wanders into the wrong room, and gets a volley of abuse.  When he looks bewildered – his assailant realises he is lost and tells him, ‘oh this is abuse you want room 12a for an argument.’ Never did I think I would come across this in real life.

Maybe….. and this is a very tentative maybe….. there is some point to this bizarre contest. The organisers claimed   “Most often a verbal duel turns offensive and leads to physical fights. Thus we want to encourage people to make their habit of abusing or scolding fellow human beings without any malice and thereby also enjoy and have fun in the process. Friendly bantering should be encouraged between people to vent their anger.”   Having worked in all boys school, I used to find the majority of banter tiresome, especially in the staff room, but recognise that it could be an important way to let of steam. I have to acknowledge there were some geniuses at it – especially the students.  Some of their observations and use of language could make me crack up, which could be a bit embarrassing, especially when trying to teach a lesson. I perfected the trick of writing on the whiteboard with my back to the class when I was battling to keep a straight face.

Wonderful …………………   Only in India!


AMDG
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)
————-
 THE POWER DISTANCE INDEX (Source: www.clearlycultural.com)
———
So how does that translate into behaviour? according to ClearlyCultural.com 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…..

—————

AMDG

Today sees quite an event in Manila. Up to 8million people will throng the streets for the procession of the Black Nazarene.  This is a black statue of Jesus carrying his cross.  Placed on a shoulder-borne carriage, the image is carried by marshals (you can see them in yellow shirts).
 Originally a statue with fair complexion the ship that carried it from Mexico to Manila caught fire. It barely survived the fire, thus its charcoal color. Last year, the procession took 14 hours to travel the short distance. Referred to as the translation - the annual procession commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene on Jan 9, 1787  to St. John the Baptist Church in Quiapo Manila. 
As tertians we visited Quiapo back in September – on just a normal day – and it was crowded with people with queues of up to an hour just to visit the statue. What is behind this devotion?  Filipinos identify with the struggles and sufferings of Jesus Christ’   In the statue Jesus is depicted getting to his feet after falling under the weight of the cross – this  resilience is valued strongly by Filipinos – even in the most difficult circumstances they never seem to lose hope.

There is something of a frenzy about today’s event – in previous years people have died from stampedes.   We were advised not to attend because of the dangers inherent – and also we are occupied most of the day – so I have taken a video clip from last years procession to give you a flavour.  You will see people desperately trying to touch the statue – and also throwing handkerchiefs so that they may be rubbed on the statue and passed back.  You will also see the crush, danger and discomfort that many of the ‘devotees’ voluntarily undergo.  From a Western perspective – this is unsettling – and such religious fervour is challenging to witness.  One of the ways to cope with this discomfort is to dismiss it as hysteria or superstition. But maybe there is something deeper at work…..  the power of the incarnation ….. an almighty God who came down to Earth, renounced power and privelege – and entered into the reality of our suffering .

So the event can be interpreted as being many different ways. It is a popular devotion – to non-Catholics it may seem superstitious . Having lived here for a few months with the privilege of sharing life with so many Phillipinos – in the slums, in mountain villages – having seen two devastating tornadoes – I have only admiration for their hospitality, warmth and cheerfulness. Their identification with the sufferings and resilience of Christ makes sense to me.  This year organizers believe thousands of survivors of  tropical storm Sendong will attend.

The German Philosopher Rudiger Safranski says that religion in Western Europe has become “a cold religious project”: a “mix of social ethics, institutional power thinking, psychotherapy, techniques of meditation, museum curation, cultural project management, and social work.”  This insipid form of a religion, yearning to be socially acceptable in a society that has changed rapidly, some argue has helped to empty Western Europe’s churches. It is through this lense that I believe we should watch, with a certain humbleness, the outpourings of  ‘popular religiosity’.  It is easy to mock or scoff, but it always leaves you with a sense of emptiness….

AMDG

What did the big firework say to the little firework? 'My pop is bigger than your pop!'

I spent most of New Years day in Cebu airport waiting for a delayed flight.  The cause for the delay….. Snow? – no,  Erupting Volcanoes? – no.   Believe it or not it was because of smog caused by the clouds of smoke from the NewYear fireworks in Manila !  New Year is celebrated in style here in the Phillipines – but unlike in the UK where a lot of people will go to shared displays organised by local govt, or other bodies here they are all ‘private’ displays ( if you can ever call a firework display private).

After the simple joys of Christmas in the Mountains I enjoyed a few days of wonderful hospitality with fellow Brit Prov Jesuit Stefan Garcia’s family in Cebu.   New Years Eve was marked by a sumptuous meal and celebration with the extended family in the hills outside Cebu.  The fireworks were truly impressive – as different families were trying to outdo each other.  Stefans father, who owns the Visayan Electricity Company, explained to me that you can tell who has had a good year by their firework display – this year it seemed to be the lawyers and doctors with the biggest displays!  Instead of conspicuous consumption – this was a case of  conspicuous combustion!

As always those with less resources join in with their own (less safe) fireworks.  Very popular is the ‘judas belt’ which is are essentialy firecrackers arranged sequentially along a common fuse. . As the fuse burns, it ignites each of the explosives in turn at a rate of up to 1000 rounds per minute. The noise produced is similar to that of a machine gun, but slightly irregular due to the inherent differences between the rounds.  Due to the proximity of the individual rounds, it is possible (and common) for an unexploded round to be thrown some distance by the explosive force of the adjacent one, before exploding itself. This unpredictable nature makes the Judas belt more dangerous than it seems. This year there were only476 victims of firecracker accidents in ‘one of the world’s most raucous and dangerous New Year celebrations’.

Happy New-Year to all – good luck with all those resolutions.

AMDG

The Hole-y shoes of Tanudan.....

So I am still recovering from a physically arduous Christmas.  As you can see from the photo my trusty hiking shoes couldn’t survive the Christmas – my fingers poking out in strange places.  Here in the Phillipines you can get most things fixed at a very reasonable price (not like our disposable throw away culture) – but even some things have there limits. The local cobbler just laughed at me when I presented my sorry shoes to him.  I have a sentimental connection to these boots having tramped the highlands of Scotland, the highways of India and East Africa and the mean streets of North London with them in recent years – but they met their match in the Cordilleras of the Phillipines.

But a serious point is how impressive the work of the priests and missionaries is in this area – as well as how tough the locals are.  Wherever I went I was always accompanied by catechists / and youth.  They insisted on carrying my rucksack for me – and in the end I was glad as some of the tracks were pretty precarious. I think I would have been pretty unstable on some of the steeper paths.  A Belgian priest – Fr. Leo van de Winkle had gone missing about 10 years ago.  They have found his chalice deep in the forest and it is proudly displayed in the Bishops House, but his remains are still missing – so half-jokingly the Bishop suggested we keep an eye out for them!  It seems he was abducted and killed by local communists – who he was openly very critical of – but as I was walking some of the paths with the mudslides – and the steep drops I was thinking he could have just slipped and that would be it. The wild pigs would take care of the rest!

The CICM missionaries had set up an impressive network of schools and hospitals – and the evidence was the high educational level and cultureal level of the people. Most of my homilies were translated but they didn’t need to be as they seemed to understand even Scouse English and even laughed at my jokes (something I am not used  to).  I have to confess to being scared at times – particularly walking on the rice terraces…. the small paths with stones were not designed for size 11 European feet particularly belonging to a lumbering, lobsided 6ft 2 – 95kg beast like myself. So it was scary teetering – in the rain – in slippery rocks with a 200ft drop on one side of you – I said quite a few prayers to various saints….  What was amazing was seeing our companions dance along these paths and rocks in bare feet.  Here is a taste of the journeys and the welcome we would receive when we would arrive….

AMDG

Greetings of Christmas Joy and Peace Everyone!   I have emerged from the mountains of the Cordillera, exhausted but very happy, with wonderful memories of a very special Christmas with the people of Tanudan.  Thanks for the concerned messages regarding the terrible typhoon that hit the South of the Phillipines.  I didn’t know about it till yesterday which shows you how cut off we have been up in the mountain villages.  It had been raining steadily for 2 weeks as the tail of the Typhoon hit us – which meant landslides and swollen rivers making vehicular access impossible.  As a result we have been without electricity for much of the time (having to ration the remaining gasoline).

As they say a picture paints a thousand words – so below is a small taste of the journey into the mountains – with chickens / pigs / puppies – the last vehicle I saw for two weeks!  From then on it was walking from village to village for the pre-dawn masses, beautiful singing, and a simple lifestyle!

A first Christmas without presents/cards /booze/ TV /even electricity but full of singing, dancing and joy!  It was humbling to see how happy the people where to have mass for Christmas.  Even managed to squeeze some Baptisms in on Christmas day – after the celebratory pig was prepared of course.  Unfortunately the relentless rain seems to have destroyed my boots and my video camera – but I seem to have some footage saved.  So the next few days I will post some more stuff.  What remains with me is the glow of hospitality – unlike the people of Bethlehem, the people in the villages of Tanudan all opened their doors – many gave me their beds or a floor to sleep on, fed me, washed my muddy gear, gave me copious amounts of gorgeous home-roasted coffee.  So there was room at the inn this Christmas for me!

AMDG

We have been enjoying two days in Baguio City – it feels a little like our base camp – before we are sent to our respectives areas for Christmas. It has been nice to relax and acclimatise away from the heat and noise of Manila. Known as the “Summer Capital” Filipinos by their thousands flock to Baguio to enjoy family vacations in the cool temperatures and dry air of the mountains. The City is at an altitude higher than Ben Nevis – and was developed by the Americans as a resort town in the mountains.  The Jesuits have a beautiful house called Mirador. It sits at the top of one of the hills in Baguio and has itself become a tourist hotspot.  Over a hundred years ago, Spanish Jesuits built a Grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes which is accessible by climbing 252 steps! And at the weekends it attracts many Phillipinos as much for the views it commands as for devotional reasons. Anyway we all managed to make it up the steps with our full packs- a little bit of training before the Christmas masses in the Mountains.

Mirador was once the site of a Jesuit Observatory and Seismology Station early in the last century which has since relocated to Manila.  For 20 years it became the theologate for the expelled Chinese Jesuits (at the time of Mao) – who have since moved on to Taiwan.  Now Mirador is a retreat/villa house for Jesuits who needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is under the management of the CLC.  Tonight – four of us are catching a night bus to Tabuk – where we will be assigned our areas by the Bishop. The journey may be about 12 hours – we have to go the long way round because the direct road is closed due to a combination of landslides and warring tribes!!  Please keep us in your prayers.

For me the highlight of our tour of Baguio has been visiting a quite remarkable work by the Good Shepherd Sisters. They have been training and educating many of the young people from the remoter regions of the Mountain Provinces. At first they had to rely on begging to support such scholarships – but now they have built up an incredible social enterprise where the youngsters support themselves through studies through a series of practical work – from making a nationally famous strawberry jam, coffee,  baking, needlework, making peanut brittle.  In 1990 there was a terrible earthquake which destroyed much of the plant – and so the sisters considered pulling out – but the youngsters insisted that as long as they could still be educated they would carry on the work for free until they built up the business again.  Another important element of the sisters work is to encourage the youngsters to be proud of their indigenous heritage (see pic) – and to preserve it as it is often looked down on by the locals! You can read about this remarkable and inspiring project here -journey form charity to social enterprise.   

I have made a small video called a taste of Baguio – it shows you some of the scenery, a beautiful hermitage in the grounds of the retreat house, the stained glass windows with the famous rice terraces and indigenous villagers depicted (where we will be giving our Christmas Ministries), also some of the work of the sisters, as well as a lovely scene outside the Cathedral in Baguio, with two young girls enchanted by the angelic Holy-water stoops and learning to bless themselves, Don’t worry it is only 90 seconds long!

 

AMDG
We had a powerful celebration of Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary today. This is a big feast here in the Phillipines where Marian devotion is incredibly strong.   In spite of tropincal storms many turned out for a procession to honour the Immaculate Conception last Sunday in central Manila. As you can see from the photo they made sure that the statues were kept dry – unlike most of the faithful.  This is a feast celebrating the sinlessness of the  Mother of God who, we anticipate in this second week of Advent,  will give birth to the King of Kings.  Today the presider was a famous Jesuit called Fr Manoling Francisco.  What is most notable about Manoling,  as well as his writing, his teaching as a theologian, setting up a foundation to support education for youngsters from the Mountain Region (were we depart for tommorrow) is his musical compositions.  His songs seems to be sung everywhere.  Most of them are in Tagalog – I can’t get his Our Father of my head at the moment….

Anyway it is clear he has a wonderful romantic spirit and it was a pleasure to hear him speaking so passionately about Our Lady today.  That her ‘fiat’ her ‘yes’ to God was an act of incredible generosity and purity of heart – considering the punishment off stoning that was given to Women who become mysteriously pregnant out of wedlock. I was musing about this whilst wandering through the campus here at the Ateneo de Manila when I stumbled upon this. Addressed to Lila with the Golden Eyes…..

Wonderful!

Courage certainly!  Purity of heart? – I’d like to think so!

I bet you didn’t realise that Adele was so popular over here (not bad for a Tottenham girl!)

 

AMDG

This has been a lovely few days sharing with each other the consolations of the long retreat. Very inspiring and there is a great joy in the tertianship.  Today the focus has changed, looking forward as we prepare to leave on Friday for our ‘Christmas ministries‘.  We are all travelling north to the Mountain region.  This is a very beautiful region, famous for its 3000 year old rice terraces. In spite of its remoteness – its population speak English as well as their tribal languages, a testament to a truly remarkable networks of schools and hospitals developed by Belgian missionaries.  Half of the group will be based around Bontoc – which is fairly developed.  However four of us (including me) are going further north – to Kalinga region, where the bishop will assign us to various places. A previous tertian reports having to walk 5hours a day to various mission chapels scattered in the mountains to celebrate mass and also how happy the people were to have a priest for Christmas. Excited – I decided to do a bit of research  to find out what the next three week might have in store.  This is what the Lonely Planet  (thanks JP!) says about Kalinga.

This rugged inaccessible province north of Bontoc attracts those who are looking to escape from civilization entirely. Kalinga is a place where weekends aren’t even a concept, let alone a reality; a place where animals are frequently sacrificed in ritual feasts and where traditional law still trumps the laws of the contemporary world. Here you might meet the last of Kalinga’s notorious head-hunters and see tattooed tribeswomen with snake bones in their hair.  You’ll dwell amid free ranging livestock and hike along ancient mountain trails to villages enveloped in rice terraces. 

Reading this has made feel a bit of trepidation as well as excitement.  I sent an email back to the province Treasurer yesterday telling him about the head hunters – he is in charge of our insurance policy :)  -  and he very helpfully told me to make sure I got a picture before I went in the pot! I have lost about 10kgs in weight since arriving here – so I am afraid I won’t be the most tasty Christmas Dinner. Anyway we have been assured that we will be quite safe at the moment because the tribes are not warring, and having a priest come for Christmas is very special for such a remote area.  However the animals might not be so respectful – I have been told not to wander off the paths into the bushes as I might attract hordes of voracious pigs looking for a tasty meal….. Luckily I am assured of a guide with me (catechist or youth worker who will probably be wearing flip flops )

Christmas is very special in the Phillipines – commemorated by a novena of masses that start on Dec 16th – the Misa Aguinaldo.  The one catch – each one starts at 4am!  yes 4am….. So I have invested in a powerful head torch – to help me trudge through the mountains and paddy fields.  At least the stars should be stunning!

 

 

Discernment

AMDG

All of the contemplations & meditations of the Second Week are leading up to a climax in the second week – what Ignatius calls an election.  For many Jesuits the election is made about a state of life – i.e. I am prepared to follow Jesus as a Religious, in a vowed life under the obedience of my superiors in the Society of Jesus.  Others make an ‘election’ retreat before a big decision in their life – change of career, marriage etc …

The idea is that how do we make a response in love to all that we discovered about God and ourselves over the past couple of weeks in the Exercises.  This decision making is called Discernment.  Ignatius has some very good practical advice about this – thanks to Warren Sazama SJ.

Seven Practical Discernment Techniques
(Spiritual Exercises, [178-187])

1. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. For example, we might be trying to decide whether or nor to enter a specific religious community.

2. He then asks us to pray for the grace to “try to be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side” (Spiritual Exercises, [179]).  In other words, we should try to the extent possible not to prefer one option to the other but only desire to do God’s will. To help us maintain focus and perspective, he asks us to keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us.

3. Then we pray for God to enlighten and move us to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.

4. One suggestion Ignatius makes is to imagine a person we never met who seeks our help in how to respond to God’s call in the same decision we are considering.  We then observe what advice we give this person and follow it ourselves. This is helpful since most of us are better at giving others advice than at figuring out what we should do.

5.  Another suggestion is that we imagine ourselves at the end of our lives either on our deathbed or after our death standing before Christ our Judge.  How would we feel about our decision then? What would we say to Christ about the decision we have just made?  We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed and in presenting it to Christ on the day of our judgment.

6. When we do not experience inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, Ignatius suggests that we use our reason to weigh the matter carefully to attempt to come to a decision in line with our living out God’s will in our lives. To do this we should, bearing in mind our ultimate goal, list and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for us of the decision at hand, for example, the reasons for and against entering religious life or a specific religious community. We are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the more weighty motives – not from our selfish inclinations. Looking over our list of “pros” and “cons” for the decision at hand, we should notice if any of the reasons listed stand out from the others and why and see which way this might point us. This technique can help us move from inner confusion to greater clarity at least as to the issues that need to be attended to and help separate out which are more significant.

7. Having come to a decision, we turn again to God and beg for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading us toward God’s service and praise.  The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love.  This is a very important step, since the feeling of rightness, peace, and joy about a decision is a positive indicator that we have made the right decision whereas feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,789 other followers