Fr John Keenan

The Philippine War On Drugs

By Fr John Keenan

The author is from Ireland and first came to the Philippines in 1966. He is based in Manila.


Pope Francis with a recovering drug addict
St Francis of Assisi of the Providence of God Hospital, Rio de Janeiro, 24 July 2013 [Wikipedia]

‘To all of you, I repeat: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! And not only that, but I say to us all: let us not rob others of hope, let us become bearers of hope!’ (Pope Francis, 24 July 2013, Rio de Janeiro).

The war on drugs initiated by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on 1 July 2016 has made headlines around the world.  The Fifth Commandment, ‘You shall not kill’, is ignored. Most of the extra judicial killings take place among the poor. Even women are killed. Children also are caught in cross-fire. 

Homily at Memorial Mass of Fr Francis Vernon Douglas

Church of St James the Apostle, Paete, Laguna, Philippines

By Fr John Keenan

On 28 September this year a group of Columban priests, Columban Lay Missionaries and co-workers, along with four relatives of Columban Fr Francis Vernon Douglas from New Zealand set off on a one-day pilgrimage to the two places associated with his death in 1943, Pililla, Rizal, and Paete, Laguna. Here is the homily given by Fr John Keenan, a Columban who came to the Philippines from Ireland in 1966, at the Mass in the church of St James the Apostle, Paete. His article, Here Was a Strong and Brave Man, first published in MISYON in January-February 2001, has renewed awareness of the martyrdom of this heroic priest from New Zealand.


Fr John Keenan and concelebrants

Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat at maraming salamat para sa inyong pagdalo sa Misang ito para kay Padre Francis Vernon Douglas. Having traced the last journey of Fr Vernon Douglas from Pililla Catholic church where he was abducted to this church of St James the Apostle, we have reached the goal of our pilgrimage.  It was here that Fr Vernon spent the last three tortuous days of his life. We remember him affectionately and pray for his eternal repose.

Rising from the Ashes

By Fr John Keenan

The author is a Columban priest who celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood last December and is from Ireland. Apart from some years working in Britain he has been in the Philippines since 1966.

Parola Compound, Tondo, Manila, is one of the largest shantytowns in the Philippines.  It is in the capital, Manila, on a long stretch of low-lying land between the Pasig River and the busy North Harbor Shipping Terminal.  It is the home to some 4,000 families.  On 2 March 2015 a fire, which started from an unattended flame, swept swiftly through the whole area devouring everything in its path.

Philippine Conference in New Evangelization

By Fr John Keenan

The author is a Columban priest from Ireland who first came to the Philippines in 1966. Apart from a few years working in Britain he has been here since then. He is chaplain at Centro Escolar University, Manila.

To mark the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization, which ended on 24 November, the Solemnity of Christ the King, a very inspiring Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE), convened by Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, was held at the Pontifical University of Sto Tomas (UST), Manila, 16-18 October 2013.

Located in the Quadricentennial Pavilion, an ultra modern arena with seating accommdation for some 6000 people on three raised terraces, it was indeed an awe-inspiring spectacle enhanced by colorful cinematic, light and sound effects. The altar on a raised colorful platform served as the focal point for the vast crowd of participants. Masterly planned and organized by some 60 people under the able leadership of Henrietta T. de Villa, former ambassador of the Philippines to the Holy See, it can serve as a model of conference planning for people anywhere in the world.

In his homily at the opening Mass Cardinal Tagle welcomed delegates from Brunei, Taiwan, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, India and the USA as well as from all over the Philippines. This was shortly after the devastating earthquake in Cebu and Bohol in which some 186 people lost their lives and 583 were injured. Many ancient and historic churches were also destroyed. Cardinal Tagle expressed his solidarity with the victims and their families. The collections at all the Masses of the conference, to which the religious, priests and bishops contributed, were to offer them some help and support.

The theme was ‘God Can Make All Things New’..

According to the Cardinal the whole point of the PCNE is a humble contribution to the construction and strengthening of the Church rooted in Jesus, His words in the Spirit in the midst of ruins. Quoting what God reputedly said to St Francis, ‘Build my Church, rebuild my Church’, Cardinal Tagle said that the people of Cebu and Bohol have promised to do this. They are the real living Church.

The journey of the Church in the Philippines and the role of Popular Devotions in the New Evangelisation was ably explained by Fr Catalino Arevalo, S.J.
Archbishop Emeritus Leonardo Z. Legaspi OP of Caceres explained the great devotion which the Bicolanos have to Our Lady of Peñafrancia.


Our Lady of Peñafrancia


Celebration of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Dublin, Ireland, 2012

Here was a strong and brave man

By Fr John Keenan

Columban Fr John Keenan first came to the Philippines in 1966 and is currently chaplain at Centro Escolar University, Manila. We are republishing this article, which first appeared in Misyon in the January-February 2001 issue, in conjunction with Fr Pat O’Shea’s article Shaken and Stirred in this issue.


Fr Francis Vernon Douglas

As a new century and a new millennium begins, Pope John Paul II is anxious that the lives and deaths of those who suffered and died heroically in the service of others be recorded and documented. The sufferings and death of Fr. Francis Vernon Douglas at the hands of the Japanese Military Police in the Philippines during World War II is one story that must not be forgotten. Fr. John Keenan, a Columban missionary from Ireland, tells us about it.

Fr. Douglas was tortured and is thought to have died near Paete, Laguna, in July 1943. Paete is a quiet country town nestled between the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and Laguna de Bay, about 115 kms from Manila. Founded as a Christian settlement around 1580, its inhabitants are famous for their woodcarving skills.

Dawning of terror

On July 25, 1943, as usual the people were eagerly looking forward to their annual fiesta in honor of St. James the Apostle. However, the peace and tranquility of the town, crowded with visitors, was abruptly interrupted when the Japanese Imperial Army decided to zone off the area. It was cordoned off and no one was allowed to leave. All males from fourteen upwards were rounded up and incarcerated in the centuries-old parish church, famous for its beautiful woodcarvings and paintings. The Japanese were seeking out guerrillas and their collaborators who were carrying on a resistance in the woods of nearby hills. For several days, some 250 men were interrogated and tortured, deprived of sleep and mercilessly beaten until they gave information or died.

Street Children Locked Up

By Fr John A. Keenan

Fr Keenan, from Ireland, is chaplain at Centro Escolar University Manila.

Maria dela Cruz, 15, and Lourdes Garcia, 16, (not their real names) were abducted one night near their homes and taken to a detention center near Manila City Hall because of ‘bagansa’, vagrancy, ie, being out during curfew. Instead of being taken home to their parents they were dumped into an already overcrowded, poorly ventilated detention center called ‘Reception and Action Center’ (RAC). Most children do not know what curfew is and anyhow they do not have watches or know how to observe the curfew hours. The plight of such children abducted from the streets was highlighted a couple of years ago in the local and international media.  It is estimated that there are up to 20,000 children behind bars in the Philippines.

In RAC some 70 children aged between 1 and 16 years are packed into three rooms barely big enough for 30. They have to sleep on the bare wooden floors side by side like sardines in stifling heat and poor ventilation. This center is run by the City of Manila and the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The main problem is over-crowding, lack of sufficient food, of clothing, of adequate facilities, of privacy and of staff.

Here Was A Strong And Brave Man

By Fr. John Keenan mssc

As a new century and a new millennium begins, Pope John Paul II is anxious that the lives and deaths of those who suffered and died heroically in the service of others be recorded and documented. The sufferings and death of Fr. Francis Vernon Douglas at the hands of the Japanese Military Police in the Philippines during World War II is one story that must not be forgotten. Fr. John Keenan, a Columban missionary from Ireland, tells us about it.

Fr. Douglas was tortured and is thought to have died near Paete, Laguna, in July 1943. Paete is a quiet country town nestled between the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains and Laguna de Bay, about 115 kms from Manila. Founded as a Christian settlement around 1580, its inhabitants are famous for their woodcarving skills.