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?
The newspapers in the Phillipines have all had David Beckham on the cover the last couple of days. He is in town to play a game – but is doing impressive work for UNICEF too. His LA Galaxy beat the Philippine National team (the Azkals) 6-1, and as he left the pitch after 70 mins he handed his shirt to a certain Manny Pacquio who was in the crowd. It is a testament to Beckhams global appeal that he even seems to outshine Pacquio. Well who outshines Beckham? Well for devotion in Asia – Saturday was the feast day of St Francis Xavier – close friend of Ignatius and great missionary to Asia. His voyages are now legendary – and his popularity as a saint seems to be universal – he is truly an A-Lister! His popularity can be measured by the amount of institutions, schools, parishes, universities, centers that are named after him. Perhaps an even more impressive legacy is the impact of his name – Xavier is the name of his home ‘town’ or estate. Just think about how many people you know who are named after him, Javier – Xavi – Xavier – Javi.
The Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Xavier – Pacecco de Rosa
In honour of the feastday – ignoring the big game – we tertians were invited on Saturday night to the Xavier school in Manila. As well as celebrating mass, a very generous dinner was laid on – and the highlight of the dinner was the presentation of a painting to the Jesuit Community and College of Francis Xavier. The benefactors and donors of the painting – the D.Campos family (former students) -were attending an auction of Princess Diana’s goods on behalf of the Spencer Familyat Christies in London. This painting of Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius with the Madonna and child caught their eye, it is an original by Pacceco de Rosa and it was bought at an auction . In a commemorative postcard given to is all said May we have the burning zeal to bring everyone to the Lord.
The Devotion to Francis in Asia transcends religious groups. I still have fond memories of taking a group of students from Wimbledon to Goa. We were given permission to celebrate mass in beautiful Jesuit Church (and UNESCO site) the Bom Jesu – but had to wait about half an hour. The reason we had to wait was that a Japanese goverment minister was visting the chapel. It is a very popular place of pilgrimage in Asia as the chapel holds the glass casket where St Francis’s incorrupt body is on display. The Japanese minister, not a Christian, had traveled all the way to Goa after a ministerial meeting in Dehli just to pay his respects. The Body of Francis is brought down for veneration every 10 years and millions travel to Goa (Christians & non Christians) to venerate this holy man. Amongst Jesuits, Xavier is treasured for many reasons, his successful missionary work, his capacity of inculturation, the beautiful letters written to Ignatius and distributed throughout Europe. He was sent by Ignatius to the ‘Indies’ as a last-minute replacement for Bobadilla, who had suddenly fallen ill. The very next day he packed up his things to leave Rome for Lisbon never to see Europe or his beloved Ignatius again. This freedom of spirit, ‘availability for mission’ and generosity is what we are asked to live up to.
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.