Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Incarnation amongst the Poor

While praying the Office of Readings on Friday I was struck by the words of St. Augustine when he says that:
"Do not grieve or complain that you were born in a time when you can no longer see God in the flesh. He did not in fact take this privilege from you. As he says: 'Whatever you have done to least of my brothers, you did to me.'"
This passage really touched me, I think it was for the simple reason that now I am surrounded by poverty and encounter it on a daily basis, those passages which are concerned with or make reference to the poor have a much greater resonance for me. Before I came here, any reference to "the poor" in scripture seemed distant and rather abstract to me since I hadn't experienced a tangible expression of it. This passage made me aware that my natural reaction of a lukewarm response to theologies which focused heavily on poverty or oppression was an expression of my lack of faith in and understanding of the immense significance of the incarnation. In humbling himself in taking human flesh Our Lord showed us not only how to be an effective presence of God to others but also how gain a deeper love for him by loving him in others. This is another example of the supernatural abundance of the Lord that when we feed his sheep we lose nothing that we could have gained ourselves; on the contrary, by loving him more by showing greater love for others we take our spiritual food from a purer source and in greater abundance. To realise that I can see Christ in the flesh in the needy and deprived is a great inspiration for me as I seek to make my tiny contribution to the spiritual and social life of the parish here.
The six Japanese from the humanitarian organisation arrived today. The aim of the programme is to give the young people an exposure to the poverty and problems that exist in other countries while doing a little to solve them. They engage in practical work such as picking up rubbish and planting trees whilst also educating the people in a better way of treating their environment. Tomorrow we will have a presentation for them where I will duet with Ferdy the music guy to sing Beatles' songs.
In Christ through Mary,

Thursday, July 28, 2005

What is life like for the ordinary people here? Hot and Crowded...

Today I visited the mall where the ordinary people go to, it's called Tutuban and is built into the old train station that isn't used as a train station anymore. Close to this mall there is the church of the Black Nazarene, a very popular devotion here. The church is in a bad area and it is said that if you arrested the people who take part in the annual procession then you would have a large percentage of the bad element of Manila locked up. The square of the church is famous for its assortment of new age and witchcraft items that can be purchased. These include candles of different colours (including black!) that are supposed to represent different desires and also voodoo-like ones that are made in the shape of people to supposedly cause them harm. There are also charms, stones and a herbal drug that will cause an abortion if drunk (abortion is illegal in the Philippines). This is just one example of the superstitious practices that exist here but should not be overdramatised because they exist amidst a culture of great love and devotion to the Catholic Church.
The mall itself is more like a covered market, although it is inside a structure. There is no air conditioning so it is very hot and the products on sale are very cheap. One of the saddest things that I have seen in this country is the sale of empty bags from leading fashion labels such as Levis so that those who purchase them can pretend that they bought something from these stores which are far beyond the means of the average Filipino.
In Christ through Mary,

Photo of Laguna pool where I swam on monday

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dominican Contemplation

I've been reading the Dominican spirituality book by Hinnebusch the last few days and today I read the section on how Dominican spirituality is contemplative. I was inspired by his reflections on how even those who are very busy with an active apostolate can be contemplatives if they do all in their power to be receptive to the infinite love of God through being faithful to their religious observances and by thirsting for the salvation of souls. This made me think that if those who are so busy can be true contemplatives than I who have so much time must have some chance. It inspired me to reflect upon scripture and what came into my mind was the Wisdom of Solomon where the author says in chapter 2:16a that
"It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it."
This verse reminded me that many do not think about the life of Adam and Eve before the fall and the fact that they would have lived forever is they had not chosen to rebel against God and lose paradise. The Wisdom of Solomon here reminds us that it was sin that caused death, it was not part of God's creation and in that sense is not natural, in the same way that our flawed minds with their inclination to sin are not natural. If then, the cause of death was not natural but supernatural in the same way a supernatural feat was required to overcome death. The author reminds us that by desiring sinful things that lead us into mortal sin we invite death and not just the death of our bodies, but the second and infinitely worse death that is the extinguishing of the divine life of grace within our souls when we commit mortal sin. Let us not forget that it was this pining for sin that caused the terrible death of Our Lord on the cross and let us daily pray for the supernatural grace to overcome temptation that is the fruit of his glorious resurrection glimpsed through contemplation.
In Christ through Mary,

Monday, July 25, 2005

Trip to Laguna

Had a really fun day today at a hot springs resort called Laguna, about 2 hours away from where I live. A big group of us went, 19 in total. The resort is on active volcano and is comprised of beautfiul naturally heated pools surrounded by trees and flowers and huts where you can bbq and make lunch. The pools vary in temperature from a plunge pool with its own waterfall that is about the same temperature as the sea in England to a really warm one where the jet that falls from a huge jug is like a hot shower. It's incredible that it requires no heating at all, it's very environmentally friendly. The others in the group couldn't believe that I was able to stand underneath the hot jet of water but I reminded them that they are not used to hot showers. People don't even have hot water taps here as there's no need. Also when you live in such a rugged climate as England you need to adjust to changes in temperature when you have to go from a cold room to a hot shower in winter for instance. I really enjoyed the warm water the most as it wasn't hot today, just lukewarm as the sun wasn't out. Tomorrow I'm going to have lunch with some Dominican sisters,
I'll post a photo of the pools tomorrow,
God Bless,

Photo of us at the Shangri La Plaza hotel on Saturday

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Philippines: two worlds

I had a really interesting time yesterday when I attended a press conference held at the 5 star Shangri La Plaza hotel for "The Power of Faith", a documentary film that was made by Robert Evans (producer of the Godfather and Chinatown) at the request of the Vatican 18 years ago. It was originally made to be a gift to the then Holy Father Pope John Paul II but since his death the Vatican decided that it wanted the film to be shown to as many people as possible. The Filipina (that's a lady from the Philippines) who is bringing the film to the Philippines to be released on DVD and VCD is called Pam Tan. She is an actress in Hollywood and is passionate about the film as a vehicle for promoting peace and love in this troubled world. The climax od the film is the visit of JPII to his would be assassin and the forgiveness which he so readily gave him. It was really nice to be in such a beautiful hotel and to have a break from the poverty and deprivation of Dagat-Dagatan, the area where I live. There was a dinner with beautiful food, followed by a trailer of the film and we were even given a goody bag on the way out! I will post photos of the evening later.
The experience really higlighted the huge disparity in wealth that is the norm here in the Philippines; to enjoy such a luxurious place and then come out into a world where people live in shacks put together from rubbish was really quite shocking, despite having foreknowledge of the situation outside this privileged island. The whole of yesterday I had been in a reflective mood because I was feeling homesick and had been discussing with Paul and Fr Allan the plight of the people here and the possible effect upon my opinions/character, it was really thought provoking. That day I realised that the reason I was missing home was that instead of embracing my stay here and trying to get the most out of the experience I had been trying to ignore the fact that I was living in an extremely poor area and simply trying to continue my life in England by looking forward to the breaks I had from it in the form of trips to the mall and other frivolous things. It really made me think about the reason i am actually here and that is to be Christ for the people here, to see Christ in them and in my small way to give them hope. I need to integrate much more into their lives and their concerns if I am not to feel like an outsider for ten months, no matter how welcoming they may be. This is the challenge that stands before me, please pray that I will live up to it,
In Christ through Mary,

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The French party: a cultural coming together

Yesterday was the party to celebrate the birthday of Helene the French missionary and the sad leaving of Emmanuel, another French missionary. They are part of a lay community called "heart's home", the aim of which is to be a presence among the people, to live as close to them as possible. It was a very nice party with cocktails, I was very impressed as they had all the ingredients for about 10 different cocktails, I had a banana dacquiri which was lovely. It's very nice to spend time with fellow Europeans who have very similar reactions to the way things are here. I'm really surprised at how much I have identified myself as a European since I've been here. While in England the difference between our way of thinking and that of the French seemed miles apart but here those differences seem as nought when compared to how different things are here to Europe. I think the next European Union conference should be held somewhere in Asia and then the countries would most definitely see their similarities differently through the prism of such different attitudes. I think that if I were to spend some times in another European country on my return from here I would feel much more at home because of my experience here. However, there are definite benefits to the way of life here. People are very accomodating and helpful, staff in clothes shops particularly are very attentive and of course most people are religious and have a deep respect for the Church.
God Bless,

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Arrival of Bro. Paul

Today Bro. Paul, who was my predecessor here last year, came to stay for three weeks. It was very nice to meet him as we've been in touch by email for a while. We picked him up from Clark Air Base, it used to be an American military base until the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. We could see the mountain on the horizon today! Clark is now a special economic zone, like Camp John Haye that I talked about on my post on Baguio. It's full of duty-free shops that price everything in dollars, it can be very cheap for some things but average price for other things. For example, there were pairs of jeans on sale for only 4 dollars, but a big bottle of shampoo was also four dollars, very odd. We went to a really nice restaurant in the country club there where membership is 200,000 pesos a year, that's 2000 pounds, which is vastly expensive for the Philippines, if you think that you can buy a very nice house for 10,000 pounds.
We had a really amusing experience which illustrates something about the culture here. We were walking around the park of the country club, which was very beautiful when suddenly we walked into a patch of wet concrete and I nearly lost my flip flops in it, which was quite scary at first but then very funny. I observed that there was no sign to warn us of this drying concrete and when Fr Allan asked the man about the missing sign he answered in what sounded like a blase fashion that he had forgotten about it. I had to wash the concrete off my sandals and feet as I was quite concerned about it drying on me. This to me illustrated a general attitude that I have observed here, that people are very laidback which has its pros and cons. So, in this example the negative side is that the man forgot to put out the sign but the positive side is that he didn't express any anger at us for having messed up his work, so perhaps inefficiency can be a tool for patience, I'd appreciate comments on that thought. Is it the people's patience that causes the slow pace of things or the slow pace of things that forces people to be patient?
On another note, I'm a big fan of polyphony, motets and so on and am currently wondering what other pieces I should add to my collection, if anyone has any suggestions, I would be very grateful.
God Bless,

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Trip to Baguio city

I've just returned from an amazing trip to a really beautiful place called Baguio city, it's a six hour drive away from here in Manila and so different. It's on the top of a mountain range, really, it's above the low lying cloud and so the climate is very different to the low land. It's not humid at all and the trees are mostly pines rather than tropical plants. It's actually quite cold when the sun isn't out, it's like late spring or early summer in England, so different from Manila where it's always humid apart from when it rains. Fr Allan and I went with an organisation from the parish called Soldiers of Christ, we stayed one night in a Dominican convent with very kind and cheerful sisters. It was a very good experience for me as a volunteer as I led a Bible study on St. Peter's speech at Pentecost in Acts and had to try to communicate what I had learnt in my degree in a devotional setting. I think it went ok, I gave it my best try anyway. The views from the convent were breathtaking (see photos) and even the drive to Baguio was really stunning as we gradually climbed the mountain range and saw the waterfalls emerging from inside the mountains. We did so many things, it was a hectic schedule but very enjoyable. We went to Baguio cathedral which was very nice, we then went to see the Dominican's summer house which was manned by a lone, very kind and welcoming friar from Holland who has been assigned to the Philippines for half of his life. We also went to the botanical gardens and the park where we had our picture taken with indigenous people called Igorots who were traditional dress and look very different to the rest of the Filipinos.
We also visited the pink sisters, a group of enclosed nuns who were a pink habit in honour of the Holy Spirit and whose church is very similar to Tyburn Convent in London, they are also adorers of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Next were the good shepherd sisters, whose convent is famous for its different varieties of jam which are produced on an industrial scale by trainee young people. The most unique place in Baguio however, in my opinion is Camp John Hay, an exclusive gated community/country club that enjoys duty free status because of its history as a American military camp. Because Baguio's climate is so cool, the houses are set in a pine forest and are so quintessentially American the place could almost be Stepford, there are armed guards who protect the residents at a checkpoint. It's a world away from humid Manila wiht its poverty, pollution and dirt. There is even a store that sells its products in dollars!
Baguio was another insight for me into this fascinating country of contrasts,
I hope everyone is well,
God Bless,

Journey to Baguio city

2nd view of Baguio

View of Baguio

Sunday, July 10, 2005

badminton and a new Bible

Hi everyone,
Sorry I haven't updated til today but the internet went down in the parish so I'm posting this from a cafe in the area. On Friday I went to play Badminton at one of the many converted warehouses they have here since the craze started a few years ago. It's such a different experience to exercise in a tropical climate, even though it was a huge space there was no air con. I really enjoyed it even though I was terrible at it, not having played since I was 16, but it was good to have some exercise.
Yesterday I went to get a Bible because I forgot to bring one with me, we went to a place called "Biblehouse", like Bakehouse, such a funny name. It's a protestant shop but we went there because they have a bigger selection of Bibles. It was really funny because as you go in the Catholic Bible section is on the left and the Protestant Bible section on the right. It was funny to be in a Protestant shop in a majority Catholic country, it reminded me of being in England. The Bible (New American) was only 5 pounds inc. a real leather cover and as I went to buy it the lady on the counter said "It's Catholic, Sir" just in case I was mistakenly buying it, it was so funny. No offence to any of my ecumenical friends but Ifelt that this was an amusing experience.
The trip to Baguio (the city in the mountains) has been postponed til Tuesday, when I get back I'll have something more interesting to say and photos to prove it.
God Bless,

Friday, July 08, 2005

Tragic events in London: may they rest in peace

I was shocked and saddened to see reports of the horrific attacks on London yesterday. My prayers are with the victims and their families, the emergency services and all those who live in London in this difficult time. May the Lord grant them eternal rest.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

My first jeepney ride

Today I went on a jeepney for the first time. Jeepneys are a form of public transport that is unique to the Philippines. A Jeepney is a jeep where the back has been converted to hold passengers with two long seats put in like an undergorund train but very basic and very crowded. It is the cheapest way to travel, only 7.50 pesos (that's 7.5p!) a ride but very bumpy. However, this being the Philippines the good nature of the people definitely makes it bearable. It's unbelievable the way that people pay their fares, they pass the money down the jeep who in turn pass it on to the driver (whilst he's driving!?), who then passes the change back to the people who pass it back to the person who just paid without a penny being lost, could that ever happen in England? This was another example for me of how kind these people are, they really do set an example in some ways.
Please pray for me,
I continue to pray for you,

Monday, July 04, 2005

more teaching and a birthday fiesta

Hope everyone is well,
Today I gave the class a quiz which they took to well, I thought, considering that I hadn't given them any notice. I did give them 15 minutes to review however. I feel that the tagalog is coming along but I must make sure that I learn something everyday to keep the language fresh in my mind. Tomorrow I'm giving them a crossword to do but I won't mark it.
There also was a birthday fiesta for a lady of the parish, this comes a day after the major feast that was the bbq! I'm trying to exercise every day so that I don't get fat, I played some basketball this evening.
I really feel like I'm settling in now, the mass today was the first time that I really felt spiritually at home here despite it being in Tagalog, I know many kind people here now and am very glad I came.
love and prayers,

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Provincial's Birthday Fiesta

Tonight we were honoured by the decision of the Prior Provincial Fr. Ed. Nantes to hold his birthday party at our wonderful parish: San Lorenzo Ruiz. It was a wonderful barbeque with delicious (masarap) food and excellent dancing from the youth of the parish who did breakdancing and pop dancing. Here I am with the Fr Allan, some French missionaries and people from the parish. I even learnt how to dance the cha cha under the instruction of Momy Edna! It was a great night.

San Agustin wedding

Today I attended a wedding at San Agustin church in the old city of Manila, what they call intramuros (within the old city wall). San Agustin is the only church built by the Spanish that survives in Manila (all the others were destroyed by bombing in WW2) and is also home to the greatest collection of religious art and antiques in the Philippines. (The picture is of one of the numerous statues of the Madonna and Child in the huge museum. Sorry that the quality isn't better but i wasn't allowed to use flash and I don't have a photo editing program here.) For these reasons it is the most sought after church in which to hold one's wedding and I was priviledged enough to be the guest of Fr Allan, who was celebrating the mass. The ceremony was very beautiful and it was in English which was nice for me after so many Tagalog masses. The reception afterwards was held in the beautiful gardens of the church ( it was quite a fancy wedding) and the food was beautiful. The trees were filled with lanterns which were lit as it grew dark and the crickets started to chirp, very atmospheric. I've been really blessed in that I've only been here for 10 days but have already attended three important occasions.
Other news: I feel much more relaxed about the teaching now having observed the teacher and noted her approach on Thursday, which I then tried to emulate yesterday. I feel that the lesson was much better than my first attempt and have prepared a quiz for the children to do on Monday, I'll let you know how it goes...
God Bless,