Archive for January, 2012

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?


Solar Bottle

Last weekend I went back to stay with the family who had kindly hosted me in October in Navotas.  We had a great time singing karaoke till 3am – lots  of Beatles of course!  Navotas is a ‘squatter area’ i.e. what might be referred to as a slum area in Manila – overcrowded and under-served with utilities.  Over the years it has become better established with electricity and running water in some areas, but there are still many areas where there is none.

That is why I was very excited to find out about this Philippino initiative – called ‘a litre of light‘.   Fantastic!   Just by getting an empty plastic bottle and filling it with water and household chemicals – and placing half of it so that it catches the sun.   This ‘solar bottle’ could make a big difference to the life of many people around the world. It is also recycling waste products.  I can’t wait to see it  being installed in Navotas.  The video below shows you how it works.  You can also find more about it by clicking on their website – click here.

This wonderful project reminds me of another story i have just posted on my other storytelling blog – click here.  A wealthy Chinese businessman was now old and wanted to retire. He called his three sons too him and said to them, ‘ I have decided not to divide the business into three, but will give it to the one of you who proves himself to be the best businessman. You can prove this to me by passing a simple test.’  Each son was given $10 and instructed to use the money to purchase something that would fill a big empty room.

The first son went and bought a big tree, after cutting it down, he dragged it to the room, it filled up about half the room with its leaves and branches. The second son went and bought the kunai grass that some of the farmers were cutting in their fields, this filled up most of the room. The third son went and bought a small candle for 25 cents, and in the evening after dark, he called his father over to the large empty room. He put the small candle down in the middle of the floor and lit it. After a minute he turned to his father and said, ‘Dad can you see any corner of this little room which is not filled by the light of the candle?’.  He won the business.

The Davos Test

English: Paul Polman (WEF 2010)

Mr Polman - Image via Wikipedia

AMDG              It is said that the annual meeting at Davos (starting today) of the World Economic Forum is where the most important networking takes place of a transnational elite, politicians and business leaders. There is a lot of anger around at the moment towards this elite, the decisions and greed of the few seem to have created suffering for the many.  As the Oscars has its counterpart ‘the Raspberries’ – Davos has ‘Public Eye’ where you can choose to vote for the most damaging company.  So if you want to let off some steam and vote for the worst company click here.



DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 27JAN07 - Impression of the...

I hope so.....

6 ‘luminaries’ have been chosen to co-chair the meeting. After a very brief investigation it seems at least three of them have passed through Catholic Educational Institutions. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever was even in a seminary at one point.  Vikram Pandit (Citi) left India as a 16 year old and studied for his first formative degree at Gannon University a private Catholic University in the US.  Then there is the Mexican Alejandro Ramirez CEO of Cineopolis. With the other three – Peter Voser (Shell), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Yasuchika Hesegawa (Takeda Pharmeucitical) it was not clear where their schooling was.     So it made me wonder how many of the 2000+ delegates have also spent part of their Education in Catholic Institutions? Probably a surprising amount.

Many Catholic (and other faith) schools justify themselves by forming students to serve the common good and the wider community and generally are very successful at it (to the annoyance of secularists). Even if the students are not Catholics – the hope is that some of that ethos will rub off. These are excerpts from the British Jesuit School Leavers Profile  (the vision and hopes we have for our leavers) – That they are:

    • Seen to have a generosity of spirit and a readiness to place their talents at the disposal of others, especially the most needy;
    • Well prepared to take their place in wider society unmotivated by prestige or selfish ambition and aware of how fully they can contribute to the common good;

Catholic Social Teaching is sometimes referred to as the best kept secret of the Church. I know from first hand experience that in Jesuits schools we try and weave these values into lessons across the syllabus.  The principles of using our gifts and talents for the service of the poor is constantly reinforced. A big question for Jesuits is often – how can we justify prestigious schools which seem to be for the elite when we profess to be commited and motivated by social justice?  Maybe we need to think of a Davos Test.  Keep in close contact with our alumni – and remind them of the values of their school days. Perhaps Catholic Schools should make an audit – or a questionnaire – to try and measure the impact their alumni are having on the world.  Are our alumni really committed to improving the state of the world as they profess?