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…..