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?


English: Yellow banner depicting a blue dragon.

Happy (Chinese) New Year!  Today begins the Year of the Dragon.  It is also – for the first time in Philippino history – a national holiday here. Perhaps this is significant – a testament to the growing influence of China and Chinese ‘soft-power’ in the Pacific Rim?  The US has exported is soft-power (cultural influence) through McDonalds, Coca Cola, Denim Jeans, Hollywood all over the world …. even the UK punches above its weight particularly with Music (Adele and Jessie J are always on radios here!) Film and TV, (I was amazed to see how popular Johnnie English is here!). The success of  British historical drama and comedy is well documented, but I’m not sure we should be so proud of our new global export – reality TV formats and talent shows! China as an emerging super-power, has a growing desire to project its image and increase its influence abroad. The lack of Chinese soft power has been analysed brilliantly in the Economist – click here.  The Chinese are looking for a figurehead – Confucius or Sun Tzu?

Today millions of Chinese – and Vietnamese and Koreans –  say goodbye to the year of the rabbit and welcome the year of the dragon.  The dragon is considered to be a symbol of power from heaven. Associated with the element of Fire – confidence, passion, intensity, excitement and unpredictable nature. But don’t be alarmed if you are an introvert – I was assured this morning by a sinologist that each year is ‘qualified’ by one of the 5 chinese elements - and this is a Water Dragon year – the element of Water will temper the fire of the dragon. It opens ‘dragons’ up to listening to others, which gives them the perspective to be better leaders! Good year for a US presidential election then….The twelve animals in the zodiac calendar ensure a 12 year cycle – so it is a special year in Asia for 12, 24, 36, 48 year olds etc  Fireworks and firecrackers are purchased,  homes are cleaned and dumplings prepared. This will be a fourteen day celebration, welcoming wealth, longevity, and prosperity, and releasing any negative ‘chi’ from the past (new years resolutions!).

I predict that this year will also be a good year for Dragons in other ways – the Christmas release of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit – will introduce a new generation to Smaug the dragon.  But also the phenomenally popular George R R Martin‘s Fire and Ice series will surely grow, and with it the popularity of the great character Daenerys Taegerean – Mother of Dragons.  Perhaps this is the year to buy shares in companies that make Dragon memorabilia – you heard it here first!

Geek alert : I confess that I am already on the third book of Martin’s seven book cycle ….. one thing is true is that both Tolkien and Martin project huge cultural influence, fanatical fan bases , both entertaining, but soft power is about values and culture . ASoFaI is much bleaker than LOTR and so far I think lacks its nobility and depth – but I would still prefer it to Harry Potter (sorry!).

But all this talk of Dragons is fantasy right? it’s all myths… children’s stories in Tolkiens case or Adult stories in Martins case?  ………… Well think again.  I was riveted last night,  cradling a small glass of whisky to celebrate the Chinese New Year, as I listened to an Indonesia Jesuit tell me all about his encounters with the Komodo Dragon.  That is one scary beast ….. can grow up to 3m’s long due to the evolutionary phenomenon of Island Gigantisism  ….. is pretty fast…. has poisonous saliva (no fire breathing) …. can smell prey 6 miles away… even crocodiles are afraid of it!  The ‘pièce de résistance’ :  they seem to be Parthenogenic (i.e. can reproduce asexually) – as was demonstrated by Flora of good old Chester Zoo! (according to this Wikipedia entry!).


When I arrived in Manila in September I was carrying a precious cargo.  An album of photographs that were taken probably between the years of 1902-1906 by an English Jesuit, Fr Robert Brown (n.b. not Fr Browne – the Jesuit on the Titanic click  ).  The photos are a gold mine – taken of the different islands, different missions and different tribal people.  They contain a treasure trove of ecclesial, anthropological and environmental information – at a time when cameras were still the preserve of the enthusiast, not commonly used.  The Jesuit research institute here in Manila, ESSC (Environmental Science for Social Change), is currently making a digital archive of them, as they are particularly interested in how the pictures give a record of Environmental Degradation, and also an invaluable ethnic record of tribal life, dress,  customs.  The important lesson for me is the story of these men and how their work presents the true face of the relationship between science and religion, which is currently being distorted by fundamentalists on both sides of the argument.

Each of the men in the photograph have fascination stories to tell – and maybe if time permits we can cover them. But focusing on Fr Brown first.  Fr Brown was sent as a scholastic to the Manila Observatory to help the transition from the hands of the Spanish Jesuits ( Spain being the departing colonial power) to the arrival of the American Jesuits (the arriving colonial power).  The Manila Observatory had distinguished itself for the first accurate warning and tracking of Typhoons in Asia.  Fr Faura (not pictured) had successfully tracked and warned of a Typhoon in July 1879 that hit the North.  So when he warned of typhoon to hit Manila in November many lives and ships were saved due to his warning being heeded.   The prestige of the Observatory was so great when the Americans arrived that they turned it into a Central Bureau with 50 observatory stations.  The Jesuits received grants from the government and observations were shared amongst the Bureaus.  Fr Brown’s job in the transition was to translate the books of the impressive Fr Algue on cyclones. As well as this work and his photographs, Fr Brown took over Fr Stanton’s work on investigating insects on behalf of the Department of Agriculture. Many of these insects were ill-disposed to the local crops – so it was another example of invaluable Jesuit scientific work.  In fact Fr Brown discovered a new genus and 11 new species of Hymenoptera.  It is delightful to read in his obituary to other Jesuits that, “A member of the Society bitten by the Brownius Armatus or the Clostocerus Brownii may take comfort from the reflection that they are named after a member of the province.” 

Why do I mention all this – well I was prompted to because yesterday I was sent the  picture to the right.  It seems ironic to me that Richard Dawkins – and many of the ‘new’ Atheists – don’t even seek to understand the complex phenomenon that is religion. They use a parody of Religious Fundamentalism – and generalise from this to dismiss all forms of religion or belief in God.  Surely this is a crass methodology.  In fact surely he is guilty of the same kind of ignorance and bigotry that he (rightly) points out in some forms of religious fundamentalism.  There are many counter examples - The Jesuits and the Manila Observatory is only example.  What about the Pontifical Academy of Sciences – or the fascinating work of physicist/ priest John Polkinghhorne,  or the valuable work of the Templeton foundation.

As any good Catholic will tell you in the words of Anselm that healthy religion is about ‘faith seeking understanding’ .  Benedict XVI has made it a big theme of his papacy – the importance of the relationship between faith and reason – especially as a counter to religious terrorism.  This debate is crucial, so it is a shame that in the age of soundbites it is being dominated by the likes of Dawkins, who according to Tina Beatties excellent book ‘The New Atheists‘ presents the so called ‘new atheism’ as intellectually limited and culturally parochial. The new atheists are railing against a God created in their own image – Beattie: ‘Dawkins’ God is as much a thoroughly modern English bully as an ancient supernatural tyrant.’

I just wish that the voices of people like Polkinghorne could be heard more above the din.

The Captain and the Chaplain


 There are not many European stories that break into the Phillipino press – let alone talked about here over breakfast or lunch. There is currently an impeachment trial for the chief justice which is getting a lot of column inches. Foreign stories are often dominated by the US or China.   So it has been of note to see how the tragic sinking of the liner in Italy has broken into the news – and the table discussions.  A death toll in single figures, sadly, is unlikely to garner much attention here, it seems to be the focus on the reckless captain that is generating interest.

What has caught my attention is in comparing the stories of the captain and the chaplain. The Captain has been criticised for abandoning ship after his reckless maneuver, saving his own skin rather than his passengers safety. As you might have seen they have released the recorded conversation of the coastguard and the captain.

Coastguard (De Falco): “Listen there are people going down from the prow using the rope ladder; you take that rope ladder on the opposite side, you go aboard and you tell me the number of people and what they have on board. Is that clear? You tell me whether there are children, women or people needing assistance. And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Schettino, maybe you saved yourself from the sea, but I’ll make you pay for sure. Go aboard.”

Captain (Schettino): “Commander, please?”

De Falco: “Please, now you go aboard.”

Schettino: “I am on the life boat, under the ship, I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m here.”

De Falco: “What are you doing, commander?”

Schettino: “I’m here to coordinate rescues.”

De Falco: “What are you coordinating there? Go on board and coordinate rescues from on board. Do you refuse?”

Schettino: “No, no I’m not refusing.”

De Falco: “You’re refusing to go aboard, commander, tell me why you’re not going.”

Schettino: “I’m not going because there is another lifeboat stopped there.”

De Falco: “Go aboard: it’s an order. You have no evaluation to make, you declared abandon ship, now I give orders: go aboard. Is it clear?”

Compare this with the accounts coming from the Apostleship of the Sea in Italy, of how the 70 year old chaplain Fr. Raffaele 
Mallena came to the aid of passengers and crew members. According to Fr Mallena said that during dinner he felt immediately that something was very, very wrong. He went to the chapel to pray and  when he realised the “abandon ship” alarm was sounding, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables, including jewellery and money, in a safe. During the chaos that followed, the priest tried to stay aboard with the crew but was persuaded it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the sinking ship. Thousands of passengers at the Savona cruise terminal where the local Apostleship of the Sea joined other agencies to distribute clothing and food. It is also providing spiritual and emotional support. Fr Mallena and parishioners on the island of Giglio, where the ship sank, worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship.

Women and Children first on the HMS Birkenhead

Of course none of us know how we will react when faced with such tragic circumstances.  But the comparison is stark and telling. Just a historical note of interest – a matter of pride for us Scousers (from Liverpool) is the account of the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead (taken from here clicky) . The heroic actions of the men on this boat established the protocol of  ‘women and children first’ .  In 1852 after hitting rocks the Birkenhead was rapidly sinking in the shark-infested waters of South Africa. While about sixty men were sent to the pumps, the other men were commanded to stand drawn up in line and to await orders. The teams who were in charge of the boats were frustrated to find that most of the lowering equipment would not function, as a result of a lack of maintenance and the thick layer of paint that clogged the mechanisms. Eventually two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children were rowed away from the wreck to safety. The horses were cut loose and thrown overboard. Only then did Captain Salmond shout to the men that everyone who could swim must save himself by jumping into the sea and making for the boats.

The soldier’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, knew to rush the lifeboats might mean that the boats would be swamped and this would further endanger the lives of the women and children already aboard the boats. He drew his sword and ordered his men to stand fast. The soldiers did not budge even as the ship split in two and the main mast crashed on to the deck.
The Birkenhead went down rapidly for only twenty-five minutes after she had struck the rocks, only the topmast and topsail yard were visible above the water. There were about fifty men still clinging to them. The sea was full of men desperately clawing for anything that could float. Death by drowning came quickly to most of them, but some of the men – and the horses – were taken by Great White sharks.

(taken from the website


I remember doing my teacher training degree in the UK – and our course was being inspected by the government.  Part of the inspection was to observe us (the student-teachers) teaching in our placements.  I was observed teaching a religion lesson in a totally secular school in South London – where religion was at best a curiosity.  Of a student body of 1200 – the RE department had one teacher!!  Religious Education was tolerated – if not exactly encouraged. The student body generally matched the official apathy of the school – with one or two exceptions.  So my job was to win hearts and minds and stimulate interest.  I decided to teach a lesson on Religion on the Internet – asking the students to find out which ‘celebrity’ had the most listings on Google.  Beckham? No (159million).  Lady Gaga? No (500million). Obama (745million) – The answer was of course Jesus (847million).

I suppose the point is a serious one.  Religious believers (and fanatics! and bigots!) are very quick at adapting new technologies to promote their messages. It is easy to identify key moments in the development of communication technology.  Ancient writings moved from tablets – to scrolls – to books due to the invention of the Codex by Romans.  But it was the Early Christians spreading the Gospels and the Bible that made the Codex popular. Then of course came the Reformation and Gutenberg’s printing press – the innovation of movable type made mass printing of leaflets, pamphlets and of course the Gutenberg Bible feasible. Jump forward a few centuries and Marconi – the inventor of long distance radio – wanted to personally introduce in 1931 the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI, announcing at the microphone: “With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father”  And then Thomas Doherty claimed in an oft repeated phrase that Golden Age Hollywood was “a Jewish-owned business selling Catholic theology to Protestant America.”

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the proliferation of religious content (of varying quality and accuracy) on the internet.  I particularly enjoy some of the creative video clips – which are great for use in schools / assemblies  / talks or even introducing prayer. One I was sent via twitter today:

See it without the water mark at this external link

You may well have seen this already by the excellent Igniter Media (also check out their Social Media Christmas)

And finally how about this for lapsed Catholics

Stefan with Pedro in Mindanao

Today’s post is from British Jesuit Stefan Garcia – who witnessed the destruction of the Tropical Storm first hand. His mother is English and his father is Filipino.  Before joining the British Province Stefan grew up in Cebu in the Philippines.  He studied zoology before joining the Jesuits – and has just flown to Guyana for Regency.

Home visits. For me they’re about 3 parts joy to 2 parts frustration. After ten years of “living abroad”, a trip back to the Philippines was needed to remind me of where I come from, what made me the person I am, and using a more zoological tone, what kind of environment has shaped me into the Jesuit I am. Coming home for me meant supping from love in abundance, with my family. Sadly, my body reacted not so well; immediately my childhood omnipresent dust allergies fired up.The doctor says I’ll always have this reaction to my homeland. Allergens are most violent when most familiar because your body has an overreaction to the things it has had to deal with. It’s a good metaphor for my emotional life as well. Seeing family and friends after such a long time is genuinely wonderful, but being in this country angers me quite often: the corruption, the greed, the disregard for human life. I guess that’s everywhere, but I never feel it as strongly as when it so close to my heart.

The recent floods in Mindanao were for me especially heart breaking, not only because I was actually there and saw all the devastation, but because I love so many people in those places that were worst hit. And to know that much of this damage could have been easily prevented had the cities placed effective city planning to get people out of living in the most dangerous flood areas makes my blood boil. Being back home, in the Philippines, makes me angry. But it is the right kind of anger, the kind that should propel one to action, the kind that made me say “enough is enough” and so I dedicated my life to try and help others the best way I knew how, by being a Jesuit. Seeing it on the ground in the Philippines, the work of our good Jesuit brothers has been deeply consoling. In particular, my time with Pedro Walpole SJ has shown me what can (and cannot) be done. Pedro is a pioneer in the Philippine province; he works tirelessly to improve both the education of young tribal people (and in turn providing a model that could be adopted by the Philippine education system), and he has developed our knowledge of environmental sciences in the Philippine context. For example, his organisation Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) will soon be publishing a textbook on landslides. His marriage of both incisive science, involvement with the people most affected, and personal prayer and reflection has shown me a “way of proceeding” that should be emulated by all our sisters and brothers in our apostolates. His team of workers at the ESSC also made me deeply hopeful, to see a group  of young, intelligent, dedicated Filipinos actively working to make their country and the world a better place, especially for those most in need.

It is old timers like Pedro that feed us young ones with the expertise and experiences we need to grow into sincere apostles. For me, the work of the ESSC has given me both the technical knowledge I need and the desire to work skillfully and realistically in what can seem like the bleakest of endeavours. But God leads them through the mire of their difficulties, and like them, I hope to be lead by Him. Through such amazing people, God energises us to do better, not to settle for what clearly is not good enough. I pray that the Lord provides me with the strength and courage that I have experienced in others so abundantly in the Philippines.

All the best in Guyana Stefan.

The website of the Jesuits in Guyana is here – clicky clicky!


You may remember the terrible tragedy before Christmas in the South of the Phillipines – due to the Tropical Storm Washi  (or Sendong as it is known in the Phillipines).   The Death Toll has reached nearly 1500 now.  However the news has moved on – even here  in the Phillipines there has been a landslide which has killed 30 and that is dominating the news now.

Why did so many people have to die?

The excellent  ESSC  (Environmental Science for Social Change) a  Jesuit research institute has already produced a report – as well as the Manila Observatory and the Ateneo Physics Departments.  But as always it seems to be falling on deaf ears – political short termism and corruption seem to prevent progress.

Anyway the main points that even I can understand so far -

  1. Sendong was accurately downgraded to a tropical storm (not a typhoon) – due to windspeed measurements, this might have induced a false sense of security
  2. However the rainfall was categorised as extreme – 180mm in 24hrs (monthly average is 120mms according to report from Manila Observatory)
  3. So the flooding came not from the sea – but from the water running off the mountains – the other direction
  4. Much of the flooding was exacerbated by illegal logging operations that has degraded the environment (greed)
  5. Information and warnings about Sendong were available three days before but there was no strategic response – which indicated a failure at both local and national political level (corruption)            
This is a combination of ‘natural evil’ and ‘moral evil’.  But before we loose touch with what this actually equates to - here is an incredible video of children being rescued – if you have the time please watch it. This shows the results of a combination of these ‘evils’ – as always it is the poor that suffer the most :

So what is the answer?   I have been very impressed by the response of the Phillipino Jesuits. In the affected areas of Cagayan de Oro –  the local Bishop, High School and Universities are all in the care of the Jesuits.  The Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro has been at the forefront of the relief effort. They have even offered 5 hectares of land to help relocate victims (click here) .  One of Fr Pedro Walpole‘s strategies with the ESSC is to help build up disaster resilience, and move beyond relief – to building up a strategic capacity to respond. With the President of the University Fr Bobby Yap they have suggested four ways forward – this is taken from their commentary.

“Emergency preparedness. A warning system on every typhoon in every area of potential risk must be put in place, and not just announced. A day or night evacuation strategy must carefully lay out the locations, paths and methods to reach safe areas for evacuation and temporary settlement.

Relocation and land allocation. A critical review and implementation of land allocation and securing access are vitally needed to assist city and local governments in identifying safe lands for settlements and the procedures for acquisition. A prioritized relocation plan for every city and barangay that sets accomplishments is imperative. This plan should not be simply mitigation activities, like developing and rebuilding infrastructure that will not withstand the next disaster. A sustainable relocation must consider people’s livelihood accessibility so that livelihood is sustained and risks are minimized.

Landscape and waterscape planning and development. An open, transparent planning process for infrastructure development is crucial with broad participation of key people, especially in critical areas of river banks, slopes and floodplains.

Floodplain management. To re-establish natural flood areas, we need to develop a floodplain management program and regulations that strictly enforce restrictions and controls in: the alteration of natural floodplains, stream channels, and natural protective barriers that channel floodwaters; developments that increase flood damage; and construction of flood barriers that unnaturally divert floodwaters and increase flood hazards in other areas.

We need a society that can value life and change its systems of relations and responsibilities to meet new basic needs. Transformative learning has to become a new adult literacy that moves to action beyondbayanihan, expanding this Filipino value and infusing an informed pro-activeness that changes our landscape for the good of all. This includes serious planning for a sustainable future that integrates the knowledge of the disaster potential and local realities. “

But are the politicians listening?  A column written by another Jesuit, Fr Tony La Vina in a popular Manila paper click here ceratinly puts pressure on the highest political levels. Click here to read it and a powerful personal account of survivors.

So now the relief effort is winding down – rehabilitation and resettlement efforts kick in – as well as trauma counselling.  The excellent relief operation co-0rdinated by the Jesuit University – Click Here – are now training counselors and realising suicide risk- indicators.  For those so short-sighted to want to close Religious Institutions working in Education- they should see all this as a lesson in building up the common good.  For the rest of us – lets keep praying for those affected

Scorsese and ‘Silence’


The history of Christianity in Asia is marked by terrible suffering and persecution, mixed with power, corruption, ignorance, prejudice, cultural suspicions, terrible mistakes, acts of great  generosity and sacrifice. Some of the fiercest persecution was in Japan – after the success of the initial journeys of St Francis Xavier.  The story of the   martyrs of Japan is powerful and it should be known by a wider audience…….

Well hopefully it will be thanks to two men, award-winning Japanese author Shusako Endo and one of the greatest film directors of all-time, Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has announced his next project will be a film based on Endo’s classic novel  Silence.   Scorsese as a young man seriously considered the priesthood, even entering the seminary.  Now, having married 5 times he recently said –  “I’m a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic, there’s no way out of it.  You do not have to look  hard at many of his films to see the Catholic influence.

The novel is based on the historical figures of three Jesuits –  and at the center of the story is the infamous Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira, who was the head of the Jesuit mission in Japan.  Ferreira was captured and committed apostasy after being tortured for five hours. The tortures for Christians were terrible often being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled unless they denied the faith – often by publicly trampling on a crucifix.  Ferreira became the most famous of the “fallen priests”, converting to Shintoism, changing his name and writing a book entitled The Deception Revealed in 1636(a treatise against Christianity). He also participated in government trials of other captured Jesuits.  This was a great scandal and shame to many Christians.  Two young Jesuits were sent to Japan to succor the local Church and investigate reports that his mentor,  and if possible ‘bring him back’.

Having read the novel about twenty years ago, it has, according to Scorsese himself, “given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.”  Daniel-Day Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal are all reported to have major roles locked down.In a forward to a recent edition of the novel – Scorsese explains his fascination   “How do you tell the story of Christian faith? The difficulty, the crisis, of believing? How do you describe the struggle? … [Shusaku Endo] understood the conflict of faith, the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience……. Questioning may lead to great loneliness, but if it co-exists with faith – true faith, abiding faith – it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful, paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion – that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully and beautifully in Silence.

I hope that the film is made.  Roland Joffe (The Mission) – had been working on a script about the life of St Ignatius but disappointingly put it to one side to make the recently released There be Dragons, about the life of Opus Dei founder St Jose Maria Escriva.  I hope this project sees the light of day – until then Endo’s masterpiece  is available for purchase here on Amazon.  Join me on GoodReads  as I work my way through it!

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