Archive for September, 2011

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 Spiritual Exercises in November.  The Exercises is the key experience in tertianship, something that every Jesuit experiences twice in their life, in their first year as novices and then many  years later as tertians.  Because 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 privilege. 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